July 3, 2018
June was a busy month on Capitol Hill. First, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education ("LHHS") Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY 2019 bill, which provides a $50 million or 5% increase to TRIO funding during the 2019-2020 program year. (The legislation also included a $10 million boost for the GEAR UP program and proposed to maintain the maximum Pell Grant award of $6,095.) The accompanying report language to the bill includes language that flatly “rejects the [Administration's] proposal to move [TRIO] from competitive grant programs to a single State formula program.” As of this writing, the full Appropriations Committee is expected to consider the bill in early July.
Meanwhile, the Senate marked up its FY 2019 LHHS bill at both the Subcommittee and Full Committee levels. As in past years, this legislation included level-funding for TRIO. (The legislation also proposes level funding for GEAR UP and the campus-based aid programs as well as a $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award for a total proposed award of $6,195 during 2019-2020 academic year.)
The report language accompanying the Senate bill included several directives to the Department of Education that would potentially benefit TRIO programs. First, the report language addressed the growing challenge in determining students’ income eligibility now that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (“FAFSA”) reports prior-prior year income. Specifically, the report stated:
“The Committee is concerned with the level of burden TRIO grantees and first-generation students face in documenting their income to meet the definition of ‘low-income individual’ as required under section 401A(h)(4) of the Higher Education Act in order to be eligible for federal TRIO programs. When the Department transitioned to ‘prior-prior year’ income on the FAFSA to benefit applicants, this created a potential discrepancy with section 401A(h)(4) of the Higher Education Act that refers to income from the preceding year. The Committee directs the Secretary of Education to work with grantees to allow for the use of the student’s most recently completed FAFSA as documentation of a student’s income, or family’s income (as applicable), to determine eligibility for TRIO programs.”
Additionally, the report language followed up on a letter sent to the Secretary of Education by several Senators expressing concern that the majority of funds appropriated in FY 2018 are being used for a one-time supplemental grant for Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math/Science as opposed to being distributed more equitably across all TRIO programs. In addition to “not[ing] concern about the Department’s planned allocation of the $60,000,000 increase provided in fiscal year 2018 for TRIO,” the Subcommittee called for the Department to release detailed information about the expenditure of these funds in 2018-2019 and to share any future such plans with the Congress in advance of implementation.
Both the House and the Senate are expected to consider each of their LHHS bills on the floor of their respective chambers sometime in July. If this appropriations process follows the same pattern as the last several years, it is likely that TRIO will receive a funding boost when the Senate conferences with the House to produce their final LHHS bill. However, in this austere fiscal environment, it is important not to take anything for granted. Therefore, TRIO supporters are encouraged to maintain close contact with their legislators and also to take advantage of the summer months to invite their legislators to visit their programs (.pdf) to meet with students and learn more about the work happening at your institutions to support low-income, first-generation students in TRIO.