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Appropriations Work Underway; Higher Education Legislation Introduced

Washington Update


On Thursday, June 15, Senate appropriators began their FY24 markups, with the full panel considering subcommittee allocations for Agriculture-FDA and Military Construction-VA spending bills. This week, the Senate will continue markups of FY24 spending bills, moving forward with the funding totals finalized in the debt deal, while the House Republicans spending bills make additional cuts below the caps. Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (WA) and Vice Chair Susan Collins (ME) said in a joint statement announcing the markups that the upper chamber is committed to moving forward with appropriations work in a bipartisan fashion. Last week, House Appropriators passed spending bills with overall totals that match FY22 toplines, rather than the caps House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (CA) and President Biden agreed to in the debt limit package. As anticipated, the Defense, Military Construction-VA and Homeland Security spending bills were spared from cuts, receiving small increases for FY24. The rest of the bills all received cuts, with most of the measures seeing funding reductions of about a quarter to a third compared to current appropriations.

Higher Education and Student Loans

On Wednesday, June 14, a group of Republican Senators, led by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee ranking member Bill Cassidy (LA), introduced a package of five bills, the Lowering Education Costs and Debt Act, aimed at overhauling higher education policies and tackling rising higher education costs and student debt. The legislation would make several changes to how students borrow money from the federal government to pay for college and how they repay it. One of the bills included in the package is the College Transparency Act, which has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), and would allow the Department of Education to track student outcomes, such as completion rates and earnings, across higher education. Also included is a proposal by Senator Steve Daines (MT) that would require expanded disclosures and entrance counseling for federal student loan borrowers. The bill would also require student borrowers and parents to annually affirm the amount they wish to borrow before the loan is disbursed.

Senator Tommy Tuberville (AL) included a proposal that would impose new limits on federal borrowing for graduate school and would end the Grad PLUS loan program, which allows graduate or professional students to borrow up to the cost of attendance. Students would be able to borrow no more than $65,000 in federal loans for graduate school and no more than $130,000 for professional degrees. An additional proposal by Senator Chuck Grassley (IA) would require colleges and universities to provide uniform financial aid offers to students. The final proposal included in the package came from Senator John Cornyn (TX) and it would overhaul student loan repayment and block President Biden’s plan to create a new income-driven repayment plan. The bill would phase out existing repayment programs and give borrowers the option of either 10-year standard repayment plan or an income-driven repayment plan, which caps monthly payments at 15 percent of discretionary income and leads to forgiveness after 20 years (for undergraduate-only debt) or 25 years (for students who borrowed for grad school).

Also on Wednesday, Senate Democrats, led by Senate HELP Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (VT), reintroduced the College for All Act. The Democratic proposal would allow students to attend public colleges and universities tuition- and debt-free. The bill would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students and allow students from single households earning up to $125,000 a year, and married households earning up to $250,000 a year, to attend college without incurring student debt. The legislation would also double the maximum Pell Grant award: $7,395 to $14,790 for the 2024-2025 school year for students enrolled at public and private non-profit colleges; establish a $10 billion grant program for states participating in the federal-state partnership to scale evidence-based practices and strategies; triple Federal TRIO funding from $1.191 billion in FY23 to $3 billion in FY24; double GEAR UP funding from $388 million in FY23 to $736 million in FY24; and double mandatory funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and other Minority-Serving institutions.

The legislation would be paid for by the Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act, a companion bill that would levy taxes on trading transactions.

Click here to read the full press release on the Republican package.

Click here to read the full press release on the Democratic package.

Department of Labor

On Tuesday, June 13, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published its semi-annual regulatory agenda that showed some deadlines have been missed, mostly due to the slow-moving Senate confirmation vote for current Acting Secretary Julie Su to be Labor Secretary. Rules on independent contractor classification, overtime pay and prevailing wages are still in the works, but some timelines have been pushed months — with a final independent contractor rule, for example, now expected in August rather than last month.

The Administration is hoping that Su’s recent role brokering a deal between West Coast dockworkers and shippers will help secure enough votes to solidify her confirmation as Labor Secretary and move the Senate to act on her delayed vote.

Workforce Legislation Introduced

On Friday, June 16, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik introduced two workforce development bills - the Employer-Directed Skills Act and the Advancing Skills-Based Hiring Act. The Employer-Directed Skills Act would allow job creators to determine the skills their workforce needs and use private sector investments to make employers a stakeholder in the reskilling process. The Advancing Skills-Based Hiring Act would support employers in skills-based hiring practices through technical assistance on the lawful use of pre-employment assessments and proactive determinations that an employer’s usage of such assessments is consistent with effective performance of the job.

Click here to learn more about the two bills.

Upcoming House Committee Hearing

On Thursday, June 22, at 10:15 am (ET), the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (NC), will hold the full committee hearing “Competencies Over Degrees: Transitioning to a Skills-Based Economy.”

Click here to access the livestream of the hearing.

House Committee Hearing Recap

On Wednesday, June 14, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development held the hearing “Postsecondary Innovation: Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Opportunities.” The hearing focused on ways to provide students with more pathways from education to a successful career. Witnesses for the hearing included Dr. Tim Renick, Executive Director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University; Keith Shoates, Chief Operating Officer at the Student Freedom Initiative; Dr. Lori Carrell, Chancellor of the University of Minnesota Rochester and Co-Director of the College-in-3 Initiative; and Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon, President of Virginia Peninsula Community College. Hearing witnesses discussed policy recommendations on how lawmakers can strengthen the nation’s education system to better serve students, families and workers.

Click here to access the hearing recap.

Committee Staff to Unionize

On Thursday, June 15, the Congressional Workers Union announced that House Education and the Workforce Committee staffers filed to hold union elections for the first time. Minority staffers on the committee asked the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to hold unionization elections. Currently, only 11 House member offices and one Senate office have unionized. If the vote passes, it will be the first union for a standing committee rather than to an elected official’s individual office. The House only started allowing members’ staff to form unions last May, following Democrats’ adoption of a resolution. Since then, on top of the 11 offices that have already formed unions, an additional five petitioned for union elections - all have been Democratic offices.

Initial Jobless Claims

In the week ending June 10, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 262,000, unchanged from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 261,000 to 262,000. The 4-week moving average was 246,750, an increase of 9,250 from the previous week's revised average. This is the highest level for this average since November 20, 2021 when it was 249,250. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 237,250 to 237,500. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.2 percent for the week ending June 3, unchanged from the previous week's unrevised rate.

Click here to access the report.

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