Biden Signs Bill Increasing Maximum Pell Grant, Simplifying FAFSA, Reintroducing Earmarks

By The New England Council

DC Shuttle …

President Signs Fiscal 2022 Spending Bill. President Joe Biden signed into law a $1.5 trillion government spending bill for fiscal year 2022 that provides $3 billion for higher education. Notable higher education provisions include a $400 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award and the FAFSA Simplification Act, which intends to streamline the process for students applying for federal aid, though those changes will be delayed. Notable investments in higher education include $50 million for developing, offering and improving education and career-training programs at community colleges and $885 million to assist historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities and other primarily minority-serving institutions (MSIs). According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, this bill also sees the return of earmarks, which are known as “community-project funding,” in the House of Representatives and “congressionally directed spending” in the Senate. The legislation includes $1.5 billion for thousands of earmarks, with more than 200 earmarks for higher education projects. The spending bill, however, does not include the $20 billion for Biden’s proposed Title I Equity Grant program and cuts his $15.5 billion request for funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by $2.2 billion. Read more on the fiscal 2022 spending bill and its higher education provisions in The Chronicle of Higher Education and K-12 Dive.

House Committee Holds Markup Session on School Shooting Safety and Preparedness Act.  The House Education and Labor Committee held a markup session to discuss several pieces of proposed legislation, including the School Shooting Safety and Preparedness Act (H.R. 5428). The legislation, introduced by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Lucy McBath (D-GA) and Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), is intended to improve school safety by “providing uniform data to policymakers and the public on gun violence in school.” In his opening statement, Committee Chair Robert Scott (D-VA) stated that this law would “create a definition for ‘school shooting,’ which does not now exist in federal law” and “ensur[e] school gun violence is tracked and better understood.” In her testimony, Hayes referred to the bill as a “desperate plea to keep our children safe,” emphasizing the need for a data system that could “thoroughly document the extent and nature of school shootings.” With this data, Hayes said that she hopes the “epidemic of gun violence can no longer be ignored and will help us to make clear, thoughtful decisions to keep kids safe.”

Senate HELP Chair Patty Murray Calls for Further Delay of Student Loan Repayment. In an interview with the Washington Post, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, urged the Biden administration to further extend the payment pause on student loans until “at least 2023.” According to the Washington Post, Murray said this delay of loan repayment would give the Department of Education more time to fix the “broken” repayment system. The senator called on the Education Department to develop a plan that is “available to all borrowers, prevents debts from ballooning over time and has a seamless enrollment process.” Murray’s request follows the appearance of White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain on the podcast “Pod Save America” earlier this month, stating that President Biden would decide whether to cancel student debt “before the pause expires,” or to “extend the pause.” After this podcast aired, the Education Department told student loan servicers to “stand down on sending notices to borrowers about the May resumption,” according to people “familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.” The department has not yet commented on this guidance, but Murray said she is “pleased to see the administration considering another extension,” since there is “plenty of work to do before payments resume.”

We publish the DC Shuttle each week Congress is in session featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of March 21, 2022. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.

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