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ADVOCACY & POLICY UPDATE - February 26, 2024

House Likely to Vote on Short-Term Pell

Washington Update


Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (LA) and Republican appropriations leaders spent the weekend negotiating with Democrats on a final agreement for the first four government spending bills, set to expire at midnight this Friday, March 1. 

On Friday, February 23, Johnson told Republicans their disunity had allowed Democrats to gain leverage in the funding negotiations, but he also expressed optimism that they will meet the deadline this week to pass the four bills funding the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Transportation and Veterans Affairs. Johnson  acknowledged a partial government shutdown is still possible because of major disagreements. The GOP continues to push for policy riders concerning hot-button issues, such as abortion, and a cohort of House Republicans continues to block GOP measures from being debated with a simple-majority bar for passage.  Accordingly, there’s been talk of several separate minibus packages, as well as another stopgap.  

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, on Sunday, February 25, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) sent a Dear Colleague letter on the need for action to avoid a government shutdown. The letter also calls on the House to take action on the Senate-passed bipartisan national security supplement.

Click here to access the letter from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Short-Term Pell

This week, the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act (HR 6585), which would allow students to use Pell Grants for short-term education programs, is expected to be taken up for a House vote under suspension. This means it must get a two-thirds majority vote to pass — it remains unclear if the bill can garner that leave of. support in the House. If it does pass the House, it is uncertain if the Senate will even take up the legislation, as it has its own short-term Pell bill. The House bill would allow students to use Pell grants for programs as short as eight weeks long at all types of institutions, including online and for-profit schools. 

The bill, however, has a different pay-for provision than what was initially proposed in December. Previously, the bill had a provision that would pay for the expansion of short-term Pell Grants by ending new federal student loans for students who attend the nation’s wealthiest universities, which was criticized by some Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee as well as higher education groups. According to the new provision, beginning in award year 2025-2026, most universities subject to the endowment excise tax will be required to participate in a “risk-sharing” program — meaning those institutions must annually reimburse the Department of Education for the amount of principal and interest that is not repaid on federal student loans. Several education groups have urged members of Congress to vote in favor of the legislation, but emphasized their support for further changes if the bill is taken up in the Senate.

In the Senate, the bipartisan JOBS Act (S 161), co-sponsored by Senators Tim Kaine (VA) and Mike Braun (IN), would also expand Pell Grants to cover short-term programs but would exclude for-profit colleges and doesn’t end student loan program participation for certain universities to pay for the bill. If the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act advances, these would potentially be major points of contention before coming to a final bill.

Click here to access a letter from the American Association of Community Colleges and Association of Community College Trustees.

Committee to Vote on Su Nomination

On Tuesday, February 27, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee will vote again on acting Secretary Julie Su’s nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Labor. Senator Joe Manchin (WV) and other holdouts have not yet given an indication on their stance so it is still not clear if Su’s nomination will pass if brought to the floor. President Biden nominated Su for the position on February 28, 2023. 

Foxx Letter on DOL Apprenticeship Rule

On Thursday, February 22, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (NC) sent Department of Labor (DOL) Acting Secretary Julie Su a letter regarding the DOL Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) entitled “National Apprenticeship System Enhancements.” In the letter, Foxx points out the length of the document and requests the Department extend the comment period by “at least an additional 60 days” so job creators have ample time to comment on the proposed rule.

Click here to read the full letter.

Department of Energy Workforce Funding Opportunity

On Friday, February 23, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a new $24 million funding opportunity for workforce training programs with a focus on training in clean energy jobs that do not require a four-year degree. The initiative further expands the existing Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) network to include more union training programs, community colleges, and trade schools. It aims to train individuals for careers in clean energy, energy efficiency and advanced manufacturing as well as assist small- and medium-sized manufacturers in saving money, reducing energy waste and improving productivity. 

Click here to learn more about the funding opportunity.

USCM/Comcast Project Up Grant Now Open for Applications

USCM CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran is pleased to announce that the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in partnership with Comcast’s Project Up, is now accepting applications for the 2024 Talent for Tomorrow: Digital Equity Challenge. The Challenge will award ten competitive grants to help cities expand local workforce and career readiness programs that provide digital access, improve economic mobility, and support digital skills and creativity. The deadline for submitting Part I of the application, which consists of a cover page and 500-word executive summary of your program, is March 15, 2024.

Click here to learn more and submit an application.

Initial Jobless Claims

In the week ending February 17, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 201,000, a decrease of 12,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 212,000 to 213,000. The 4-week moving average was 215,250, a decrease of 3,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 218,500 to 218,750. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.2 percent for the week ending February 10, a decrease of 0.1 percentage point from the previous week's unrevised rate.

Click here to read the full report.

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