By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU

This week, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are reconvening in Washington, D.C. Congress and the Administration have a small window to restart legislative efforts before returning to their states and districts in advance of the November elections. Waiting for them is a complicated agenda that centers on providing help to the American people.

With the nation still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, individuals, organizations and industries are urging Congress and the Administration to provide supplemental funds to address their needs. Yet the differences in policy and cost between the U.S. House of Representatives’ HEROES bill and the U.S. Senate’s HEALS Act, will be a challenge to overcome.

In the April issue of Connections, we updated you on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This bipartisan legislation provided more than $2 trillion in economic relief to individuals, communities and businesses, including $12.6 billion for colleges and universities to address losses related to the pandemic. Half of the money that an institution received was to be used for direct emergency grants to students, while the other half of the funds were to be used for costs associated with the transition to virtual instruction.

While these funds were critical, they did not match the losses suffered by institutions of higher education, nor did they help the growing needs of students whose parents or other family members lost their jobs. In partnership with other higher education associations, AJCU is seeking $46.6 billion in the next stimulus package for colleges and universities. Though this amount represents just a portion of the estimated losses and costs facing colleges and universities (estimates put that figure closer to $130 billion), we know that this will help institutions continue to operate and serve their students.

In both the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans are on record in support of a fifth stimulus or supplemental bill, and funding for higher education (students and institutions) has been included in both proposals. The $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which was introduced by the House Democrats in May and passed through the House nearly along party lines on May 15, provides $90 billion for K-12 and post-secondary education, with$7 billion reserved for nonprofit institutions of higher education (the reserved funds were distributed by formula and made available to students and universities to address needs, losses or new expenses related to COVID-19).

In July, the Senate responded by introducing a package of eight bills that together are referred to as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act. This legislation also provides support for higher education, by making $30 billion available for student and institutional needs, of which $24.7 billion would be distributed (per formula) to colleges and universities. The overall cost of the HEALS Act is $1 trillion.

While it is positive that both stimulus packages include funding for post-secondary students and institutions of higher education, there is a great deal that divides these bills beyond $2 trillion. Among the points of contention are the amount of enhanced unemployment insurance to be made available for workers who have lost their jobs, and specific dollar amounts to be included in stimulus checks for individuals and dependents. The two bills also include different proposals for federal student loan relief and have different perspectives on liability protections for colleges and universities. The policy differences related to the post-secondary education dollars are also vexing. The bills use different formulas to distribute federal dollars, which could have significant impacts on campuses and on students, depending on which formula is used.

There is much work to be done in a very short amount of time. In addition to resolving differences on the stimulus bills, Congress must also pass legislation to keep the government running before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The House has passed their version of the regular appropriations bill, while the Senate has yet to act; none of the bills have been sent to the President for his signature. And other items on the agenda include policies related to racial justice and policing, the U.S. Postal Service, mail-in ballots, election security and more.

With high-stakes elections that could shift the balance of power in the Senate and the White House, lawmakers are anxious to be back in their states and districts, campaigning for votes. AJCU will be working overtime in these coming days to make sure that Congress understands the needs of our students and institutions. For updates on our advocacy, please visit the Policy Corner on the AJCU website.