From Your Lobbyist: Federal Funding Process and Update
July 17, 2018
What is the federal funding process?
Every year Congress must enact a series of funding bills to keep the government open and provide funding for federal programs, including higher education programs like Pell Grants and work study programs. This cycle is known as the appropriations process and begins each year in February with the President’s budget proposal, which serves as a blueprint that outlines the President’s budget priorities. The President’s budget, however, is not law and it is up to Congress to determine specific funding levels for federal programs each year. After the President’s budget is released, both the House and Senate move their own funding bills through their respective chambers and, eventually, pass a final bill that reflects agreed upon spending amounts for the next fiscal year.
The fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. Under normal order, all of the spending bills must be passed into law by midnight on September 30th in order for the government to remain open. As we know, sometimes that doesn’t happen and the government shuts down or Congress has to pass what is known as a continuing resolution (CR)––basically, a bill that keeps government funding on autopilot until a final bill is passed. Continuing resolutions can be passed for a short term while Congress hammers out some quick legislative issues or for a long term, like the remainder of the fiscal year. Once a final bill is passed, the process starts all over again with the release of the President’s budget proposal.
In what bill are the programs that AYA cares about?
The Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education (LHHS-Ed) bill funds most education programs from k-12 to higher education to adult workforce programs. This bill accounts for approximately 1/3 of all domestic spending and is often the most contentious bill to pass because it contains the healthcare and labor programs as well.
For the second year in a row, both the House and the Senate rejected most of the education cuts President Trump proposed for FY 2019, including programs that help lower the cost of college like student aid, campus-based aid, and institutional aid. Despite President Trump seeking billions in cuts to the Department of Education and only proposing $63.2 billion overall for education programs, the House and Senate LHHS-Ed bills would provide $70.9 billion and $70.8 billion respectively.
Below is a chart that shows funding levels from FY 2016-2018, the President’s proposed levels for FY 2019, and the House and Senate’s passed levels for FY 2019. As the chart shows, while President Trump did not propose cuts to Pell grant funding––which the House and Senate level funded at $22.4 billion (max award $6095 per student)––he did propose cuts to just about every other higher education program. Specifically, the President’s budget would zero out the $1.1 billion federal supplemental educational opportunity grants (SEOG), which provides campus-based aid to the students with greatest need. President Trump’s budget also would deal a hefty blow to minority serving institutions by zeroing out hundreds of millions in funding to strengthen institutions, including those serving Alaska/Hawaiian Native, predominately black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, non-tribal Native American, and Hispanic students. Further, the budget proposal would also eliminate funding for programs that assist first generation college students like the TRIO program, which received $1 billion in FY 2018. Congress, on the other hand, flatly rejected these cuts across the board, with the House level funding most programs and the Senate providing increases to many of them.
Where in the funding process are we now?
Just after the 4th of July recess, both House and Senate Appropriations Committees passed their versions of FY 2019 LHHS-Ed bills and they now await floor time. If or when the bills are passed by each chamber, they will need to be conferenced so that one cohesive bill is sent to the President’s desk for signature into law by September 30th. Given that midterm elections are just around the corner and approaching fast, it is increasingly likely that Congress will pass a short term continuing resolution and complete the appropriations process after the elections.
Earlier this summer, AYA sent a letter to the Appropriations Committees outlining our funding priorities and urging Congress to fund the programs that help lower the cost of college and increase access to high-quality institutions. In our letter we advocated for increasing the maximum Pell Grant award and maintaining year-round Pell grants, providing campus-based aid funding that supports low-income and first generation students, and continuing investments in dual-enrollment programs that allow high-school students to accrue college credit. As the appropriations process continues to unfold, AYA will continue to advocate for strong federal investments in the higher education programs that make college more affordable, increase access, and promote college completion.