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ADVOCACY & POLICY UPDATE - February 5, 2024

Senate Unveils Border Deal As Appropriations Negotiations Continue


Washington Update


Appropriations

With Friday, March 1, less than four weeks away, top congressional appropriators and staff continue to negotiate on the final text of the dozen government funding bills to avoid its first shutdown deadline.  Lawmakers in charge of the spending measures are anxious to finalize talks so they can begin to assess federal funding needs for FY25. 

Senators J.D. Vance (OH) and Congressman Kevin Hern (OK) are calling on Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (LA) to bring up a new Israel aid bill without IRS cuts attached, which leaves out assistance to Taiwan, Ukraine, and U.S. border security – making it more difficult to get aid to the others enacted should this un-offset Israel bill pass. On Sunday, Senate negotiators released the text of a $118.3 billion bill that would provide emergency national security funding for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and others and would change how the U.S. handles immigration through the southern border. The Senate is expected to attempt to take up the bill this week as a substitute amendment to a legislative vehicle. Speaker Johnson said the bill is ‘dead on arrival’ in his chamber. 

Click here to access the press release and full text for the Senate Bipartisan National Security Supplement.


National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines


On Monday, January 29, the Biden-Harris Administration announced 10 regions across the country that are receiving over $530 million in investments, brought through by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Regional Innovation Engines program. The White House awarded the 10 NSF Regional Innovation Engines $150 million — $15 million each in federal investments — with over $365 million in matched contributions from non-federal partners. The NSF Engines aim to translate research and development into economic competitiveness across different U.S. regions. The awardees come from a range of industries including semiconductors, energy, defense, aerospace, medicine, textiles, and agriculture. Over the next decade, these 10 NSF Regional Innovation Engines will be eligible to receive upwards of $2 billion, with a goal of stimulating economic growth across a range of sectors. The NSF Regional Innovation Engines program was authorized by the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act and is part of President Biden’s ‘Bidenomics’ agenda to grow the economy from the middle out and bottom up.

Click here to read the full press release and access the list of winners.


College Cost Reduction Act

On Wednesday, January 31, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in a vote of 22-19, passed the College Cost Reduction Act, a proposal from House Republicans that would require colleges to provide costs for programs upfront, make institutions pay a portion of unpaid loads from graduates unable to repay them and overhaul student loans. It would cap the total amount of federal student aid a student can receive annually at the “median cost of college,” and sunsets the Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS loan programs. Additionally, it would bar the U.S. Department of Education from implementing any new student loan repayment programs or modifying them. It would eliminate several regulations, including the 90/10, borrowers defense and gainful employment rules. All 30 Democratic amendments to the bill were voted down by Republicans. 

Over a dozen groups representing colleges and universities, including the American Council on Education and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, have expressed concerns over provisions in the bill. Primarily they take issue with risk-sharing on student loans, saying that the burden would be especially high for institutions enrolling greater shares of low-income, first-generation and students of color.

The legislation, opposed by House Democrats, still saw bipartisan support on certain provisions, including codifying changes to transfer credit rules, the establishment of standardized financial aid offer forms, the removal of origination fees and interest capitalization on student loans, as well as Postsecondary Student Success Grants. On Tuesday, January 30, House Committee on Education and the Workforce Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA) unveiled the “Roadmap to College Student Success” in response to the markup. In the proposal, Scott outlines key Democratic priorities including doubling the Pell Grant, expanding Pell to graduate students and making two-year colleges tuition free, among other higher education and student loan reforms.

Click here to learn more about the College Cost Reduction Act.

Click here to access a full video of the markup.

Click here to access the “Roadmap to College Student Success.”


H-1B Visas

On Monday, January 29, the U.S. State Department opened the first tranche of slots for H-1B visa holders looking to renew their documents without having to leave the United States. The pilot program is designed to accommodate 20,000 applicants over the coming weeks and is limited to only H-1B workers who meet the criteria outlined in December. It excludes dependent visa holders like spouses and children on H-4 visas - something that many workers expressed frustration over when eligibility details were first released.


House Committee on Small Business Hearing

On Tuesday, January 30, the House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development held a hearing titled “Pathways to Success: Supporting Entrepreneurs and Employees with Disabilities.” During the hearing, committee members heard from various witnesses on how entrepreneurs and employees with disabilities are strong contributors to the nation’s economy. Witnesses for the hearing included President & CEO of Autism Speaks Keith Wargo, Owner of Maeve’s Place Iva Walsh, and Founder & Owner of Cody Clark Magic Cody Clark.

Click here to access the full video of the hearing.


AbilityOne 

On Wednesday, January 31, Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett (TX) and Congressman Marc Molinaro (NY) co-led a letter sent to the House Committee on Administration asking it to enforce legislative offices’ obligation with the AbilityOne program. The letter hopes to increase federal support of AbilityOne, which employs 36,000 people who are blind or “significantly disabled” across the country, by strengthening purchasing requirements of nine legislative branch procurement offices.  Under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act, federal entities are required to procure goods and services from AbilityOne workers when possible. Crockett and Molinaro found that the mandate lacks clear enforcement measures in the legislative branch.

Eight of the nine legislative offices subject to JWOD requirements responded, saying they comply with the law and prioritize AbilityOne products. The nine legislative offices subject to JWOD requirements are the Congressional Budget Office, Architect of the Capitol, Library of Congress, Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, Government Accountability Office, Government Publishing Office, U.S. Capitol Police, Stennis Center for Public Service and Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. The Chief Administrative Officer stated that the office’s participation is voluntary.

The letter requests the Administration Committee’s help to make changes to JWOD implementation, including that legislative offices would be required to hire or train AbilityOne representatives to serve as internal advocates. Most of the nine offices either already have a representative or are in the process of designating one. It also asks to mandate annual data collection from each office tracking specific procurement costs and updates on what they’re doing to increase procurement from AbilityOne vendors. Additionally, the lawmakers propose updating the committee's procurement guidelines and providing information on AbilityOne to new members. Molinaro expressed confidence that House Administration Committee Chair Bryan Steil (WI) will support the proposed changes.


Unemployment Rate

On Friday, February 2, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the January unemployment report, which showed the U.S. labor market added 353,000 jobs last month — far exceeding economists’ expectations and refuting any worries of a recession. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%. Despite the Federal Reserve’s effort to fight inflation with the highest interest rates in more than two decades, the job market has held up surprisingly well. Inflation has fallen significantly but remains roughly a percentage point higher than the Fed’s target rate of 2%. The Fed is expected to cut interest rates sometime this year, which would lower borrowing costs for consumers and businesses, but if it cuts interest rates too quickly it could risk a rebound of inflation.

Click here to access the report.

Click here to read Acting Secretary of Labor Su’s statement on the January jobs report.

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