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TRIO Funding — Where Are We Now and What Happens Next?

February 3, 2017

On January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Like every transition of presidential power, the Trump Administration has ushered in a new group of political leaders who, in turn, bring with them new attitudes regarding federal spending, generally, and education spending, in particular. While recent actions emanating from the White House and Capitol Hill do not have an immediate impact on TRIO, they do have the potential to raise some unique challenges in the fight for increased funds over the next year.

A Quick Recap

At the end of last year, TRIO seemed to be on a steady path towards another significant funding increase. Building off of the $60 million funding boost provided for TRIO in FY 2016, the House Appropriations Committee approved another $60 million funding increase in its FY 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education ("LHHS") Appropriations bill thanks to the leadership of TRIO Champions Tom Cole (R)(OK-4) and Rosa DeLauro (D)(CT-3). However, after the dramatic conclusion of the November 2016 federal elections, Republican leaders in Congress decided to delay any major funding decisions until after the new President took office. As a result, in early December of 2016, Congress passed an FY 2017 Continuing Resolution ("CR") to level-funded all federal programs through April 28, 2017.

Where Are We Now?

In order to understand where we are now and what happens next, it is important to remember that TRIO, like most education programs, is "advance-funded." That is, funds appropriated in one federal fiscal year pay for activity during the following academic year. Therefore, the $60 million increase provided in the FY 2016 appropriations bill, which was signed into law in December 2015, funds activities currently happening in TRIO programs as we are in the 2016-2017 program year. The final FY 2017 appropriations legislation, which Congress has not yet crafted, will determine how much funding will be available for TRIO programs to operate during the 2017-2018 program year.

Although funding has not been finalized for the 2017 fiscal year, officials within the Department of Education are continuing to conduct the TRIO grant competitions scheduled for FY 2017. Thus, applications for Upward Bound are currently undergoing review and Department officials aim to release competition results in mid-May. The applications for both Upward Bound Math-Science and Veterans Upward Bound are expected to be released during the month of February. The application for McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement is expected to be released sometime in March. While Department officials certainly aim to notify all applicants of their status before the current grants end, the actual number and size of the grants awarded will depend on the amount of money allocated for TRIO in the final FY 2017 appropriations legislation.

What Happens Next?

The proposed $60 million funding increase for FY 2017 currently hangs in the balance as the government is operating under a CR that expires on April 28, 2017. By then, Congress will have to pass another spending bill to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017. At the same time, Congress must also begin the task of considering legislation to fund the government during Fiscal Year 2018, which will begin on October 1, 2017. This process requires first that Congress pass a budget resolution and then move on to pass individual appropriations bills. (Note that while the budget resolution determines the overall amount of money that the government will spend during a fiscal year across all of its agencies, the appropriations bills determine how much money is spent by individual programs during a fiscal year. TRIO is funded in the LHHS Appropriations bill.)

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have already indicated their intent to use the FY 2018 budget process to enact major fiscal priorities, including tax cuts, entitlement reform, and deficit reduction. They have also expressed a strong desire to fund new efforts around transportation infrastructure. These priorities will likely run up against the needs of on domestic programs, including education programs like TRIO. Legislators will have to make difficult decisions about how to prioritize funding for their competing concerns.

What Can We Do?

Even though this new climate may seem overwhelming, TRIO advocates are no strangers to adversity. Rather, by leveraging our unique geographic and political diversity, TRIO advocates have continued to yield strong support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Such grassroots efforts have allowed TRIO programs to thrive in spite of funding challenges over the years. Although the coming year will be unusual in that it will require advocates to fight for increased funding for both FY 2017 and FY 2018 simultaneously, it can be done successfully. Below are three key steps that all TRIO advocates can take to help ensure the maximum investment in our programs next year and beyond.

  • 1) Make Plans to participate in COE's 37th Annual Policy Seminar on March 19-22, 2017. As the oldest and one of the most important activities of the Council for Opportunity in Education, Policy Seminar presents the greatest opportunity to learn the most up-to-date information about TRIO funding and congressional priorities for first-generation, low-income students. Participants receive hands-on advocacy training as well the experience of meeting directly with Members of Congress and their staff on Capitol Hill.

  • 2) Invite your Members of Congress to visit your TRIO programs. Whether one has the opportunity to participate in the COE Policy Seminar or not, inviting Members of Congress to visit programs locally is a key step towards cultivating TRIO support. During site visits, legislators and their staff have the opportunity to meet directly with students and their families, to hear testimonies about the impact of the programs on students’ lives, and to see federal dollars at work. Local program visits are one of the best ways to help legislators understand that TRIO WORKS!

  • 3) Meet locally at your legislators’ office, attend townhall meetings, etc. In addition to inviting Members of Congress to visit their programs, TRIO advocates should also take every opportunity to meet with their legislators locally. Whether these meetings take place at the local District office or at public events hosted by the congressional office, each of these contacts reinforces the fact that TRIO is a vital presence in the local community.

The Council for Opportunity in Education staff is always willing to assist in any advocacy efforts of TRIO supporters. If you would like assistance in obtaining contact information for your legislators, need TRIO buttons, or require any additional support, please do not hesitate to contact Kimberly Jones (kimberly.jones@coenet.us) or Selene Ceja (selene.ceja@coenet.us) by e-mail using the addresses previously provided or by phone at (202) 347-7430.