We have reached the end of another week of watching and waiting for Congressional and White House negotiators to finalize a COVID-19 federal relief package. Rumors continue to swirl, but it is increasingly likely that a major relief bill will be added to the FY 2021 “must do” omnibus funding bill. All parties are hoping a compromise will be reached by midnight tonight. However, we are also hearing that negotiations could spill into the weekend after the government’s temporary funding bill expires.
As it has been throughout this process, our main focus is ensuring the COVID relief bill continues to serve colleges and universities and the students we serve. And we have every reason to believe it will.
What we do not know is if any of the details we reported to you in the email I sent on Tuesday have changed. While the bill has many advantages for us, it does not look like liability protection will be among them. That debate has been quite public, and it seems that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has agreed to drop that provision in order to get the bill done.
While it is not certain, we think it is more likely than not that the rewrite of the federal system for awarding student aid could be included in the relief bill as well. The principal issue here is that the new formula is expected to bring many more students into the Pell Grant program, and expand some student loan benefits, making the package have a rather large price tag that would require waiving federal budget rules. While the Senate seems anxious to do this in tribute to retiring Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), not everyone in the House is onboard.
There are also an array of other provisions that could be tagged onto a relief package and Members of Congress are scrambling to add their own legislative priorities before it’s too late. Among the many items that could be added are COVID-related employment and tax benefits and expiring tax provisions. Less likely, but on the rumored list, are telehealth waivers from state licensing laws, and even a bill authorizing a long debated federal student unit record system to track college students.
We will continue to monitor negotiations closely. Once a bill is passed, we are planning to provide a series of communications to help you better understand the far-reaching implications, including:
- Highlights and analysis of the distribution formula, use of funds, and other key elements of the bill.
- Institutional funding estimates. As we did with the CARES Act, we will once again provide current NAICU members with estimates of the amount of funding relief your campus may receive.
In this week’s Washington Update, the GI bill legislation we reported on earlier this month has been approved by Congress and sent to the president for his signature. Also headed to the White House for signing is the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes language concerning colleges that host Confucius Institutes, and the HBCU PARTNERS Act, which seeks to enhance the relationship of HBCUs with various federal agencies. Yesterday, the Trump Administration published final regulations clarifying the rights and obligations of faith-based organizations to participate in and receive aid under federal programs and activities.
You can read these and other stories below in this week’s edition.
2021 NAICU Annual Meeting & Advocacy Day: A reminder that registration is open for NAICU’s annual gathering, taking place virtually February 8-10, 2021. The Biden Administration will be in the early stages of working to implement its first 100 days agenda, including detailing its priorities for higher education, and will be reviewing current higher education regulations. It’s also looking like Congress may be working on a follow-up federal relief package to address the coronavirus pandemic, that could bring more aid to institutions and students if we all join together to make the case for our needs.
This will be an ideal time to add your voice to the conversations and issues that will shape the future of independent higher education for years to come.
Editor’s Note: This week’s Washington Update is scheduled to be the final issue of 2020. All of us at NAICU wish you a very happy holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year. Regards, Barbara K. Mistick, D.M. President, NAICU