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Julie Ryder Lammers
The Higher Education Act Reauthorization is on hold while Congress deals with issues like health care and confirmation hearings for members of administrative agencies and the Supreme Court. However, in the meantime, the biggest action impacting higher education from Washington is coming from President Trump’s proposed “skinny budget” for FY2018.
A presidential budget is a general wish list the Administration puts forward of budget priorities for the administrative agencies in the coming year. However, this document has no legal weight until it is approved by Congress. New presidents usually release this “skinny budget” with a general list of economic priorities and fill in the details with a full budget in the coming months. That is what President Trump is expected to do. The President’s skinny budget is, however, a good indication of where the President’s priorities fall. The proposal President Trump has made calls for large cuts to domestic spending programs and large increases in military spending. On the education front, the proposed budget calls for a 15% cut (over $9.2 billion) to Department of Education programs. This includes elimination of the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, a 10% cut to TRIO college access programs, a 33% cut to the GEAR UP college access program, and pulling $3.9 billion from the federal Pell Grant surplus. However, that proposal wouldn’t impact the maximum award for Pell grant which would remain at $5,920 for the coming school year.
Despite the stark cuts to some programs, it is important to remember that this is merely a proposal. The President’s full budget recommendations will go to the Budget and Appropriations Committees and ultimately the full Congress. As is often said with presidential budgets, just as quickly as the President proposes a budget, the Congress disposes of that budget. Ultimately, the Budget and Appropriations Committees will draft their own budget and it will look drastically different from the President’s proposal. However, now is the time to talk to members of the Budget and Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate and make sure they are aware of the importance of these programs for students and families. Unless members of Congress hear about the devastating impact of losing services provided by these higher education programs, they have no reason to put them into any Congressional budget.
While the President continues to push next year’s budget priorities, it is important to remember that the federal government is still working without a budget for this year. In December, Congress passed a short-term Continuing Resolution (or CR) to keep the federal government operating until April 28. If Congress doesn’t pass another CR, an “Omnibus” Appropriations bill, or a series of appropriations bills to fund federal agencies for the remaining five months of FY17, the government will face a shut down. According to recent reports, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are hopeful they will be able to finish an Appropriations bill by the end of April and not have to file another CR or shut down the government. However, since they are still working on this year’s budget, despite President Trump’s proposal, there will be no action on next year’s budget in Congress until after the end of April and this year’s budget challenge is resolved.