From Your Lobbyist: Back to School, Back to Congress
September 6, 2019
Week of September 3-6
After a long 5-week hiatus this summer, Congress returns to session next week and passing the federal funding bills will be the only thing on everyone’s minds. When it returns next week, Congress only has 13 legislative days to pass all 12 appropriations bills before government funding runs out on September 30th. While the House already passed its education spending bill, the Senate did not because it was waiting on the budget deal to pass before giving its allocation level to the Labor-HHS-Education (LHHS-Ed) subcommittee, known as the 302b allocation. Without knowing the 302b level, it is hard to guess the amount of additional funding for higher education programs the Senate will add to the LHHS-Ed bill. The budget deal provides an additional $25 billion for non-discretionary defense (NDD) programs, so if LHHS-Ed were to receive its fair share (1/3), it would be about $7.5 billion. According to several sources, it is assumed that the LHHS-Ed bill will likely receive a relatively small increase, around $3 billion, due to funds being siphoned off for the census and other Senate Republican priorities. Even with that extra $3 billion in LHHS-Ed, it is expected that a bulk of those funds will go to NIH and addressing the opioid crisis, leaving little room for increases for higher education programs.
As of now, it is expected that the LHHS-Ed bill will be paired with Defense/Energy and will be marked up on September 10th and 12th. Unfortunately, despite the budget deal that lifted the tight spending caps, it still isn’t going to be smooth sailing for Congress to pass final spending bills before the clock runs out on September 30th for several reasons: (1) the Senate only has a few legislative days to pass all 12 of its spending bills, which will likely mean some form of a short term CR will be required; (2) there are big differences between the House and Senate spending levels and legislative priorities that will need to be negotiated; (3) the President has some major priorities including the border wall; and (4) it is unclear how the handshake deal to avoid poison pill riders (abortion, gun control, immigration, etc) will play out in getting some of these bills to the finish line. In some and looking ahead, we may see this funding fight and threats of government shutdowns drag out through the fall, yet again.
DeVos Finalizes Borrower Defense Rules: Despite public pressure from student groups, including AYA, education organizations, consumer protection groups, and dozens of states, Devos deals doom to student borrowers once again by finalizing weaker borrower defense rules. Scrapping the Obama era rules that made it easier for defrauded students to obtain relief from the federal government, Secretary DeVos’ rules make it harder for borrowers to obtain loan forgiveness. Essentially, the new rules set much higher standards students must meet to prove they have been defrauded by a school, making it much more likely for a student to obtain relief. In addition to proving the school engaged in misrepresentation, students will have to show that they relied on that misrepresentation and carefully document the “financial harm” – beyond just paying into a school that intentionally misled them. Further, borrowers now only have 3 years to submit their claims. According to the data, of the 180,000 pending borrower defense claims, very few were brought within that time frame and even worse, the Department has forgiven less than 1% of the pending claims. In defense of the new rules, the Department of Education claims the stricter standards will result in an approximately $512 million savings on loan forgiveness for defrauded students per year. Case in point: It appears clear that the Department, under this administration, cares more about a $512 million savings, taken from the backs of defrauded students rather than holding fraudulent institutions accountable. Democrats in Congressed apparently feel the same way—Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, Bobby Scott (D-VA), explained: “The Trump administration is sending an alarming message: Schools can cheat [their] student borrowers and still reap the rewards of federal student aid” with Senator Durbin (D-IL) echoing, “the rule the rule is another Trump-DeVos giveaway to their for-profit college cronies at the expense of defrauded student borrowers. The only groups to endorse the final rules: for profit colleges and universities.