Government Relations Summary

The Government Relations (G.R.) Summary is a periodic update from the Government Relations team at the Council for Opportunity in Education. Through this endeavor, we hope to keep the TRIO community up-to-date on all the latest happenings with respect to TRIO in Washington.

TRIO Advocates Fight for Restoration Over Innovation!
(April 17, 2015) 

Over 500 TRIO professionals, students and alumni joined the Council for Opportunity in Education at the 35th Annual Policy Seminar this March in Washington, D.C., to learn more about the legislative process and the latest policy developments affecting the TRIO programs in the nation’s capital. Participants were joined by LHHS-ED Chairman, Representative Tom Cole (R-OK-4) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) who highlight the importance of non-financial support services and urged the audience to continue their efforts in support of first-generation, low-income students. Attendees also participated in crowd favorites like “TRIO Family Feud” and Steve Colander’s “Dancing with the Budget” in an effort to learn more about TRIO’s priorities in present fiscal climate. As a result, TRIO representatives visited over 469 congressional representatives, telling TRIO student success stories and urging Members to support an increase in TRIO funding for FY 2016.

Our advocacy efforts last month are already working. A national conversation on how federal resources can better support first-generation, low-income students is beginning to develop in the House under the leadership of LHHS-ED Chairman and TRIO Champion Tom Cole (R-OK-4). The day after Policy Seminar concluded, the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (“LHHS-ED”) Appropriations Subcommittee hosted an oversight hearing entitled, “Closing the Achievement Gap in Higher Education.” Carol Fischer, Ph.D., an alumna of the McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement program at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, served as a featured witness. She shared her personal story of overcoming a history of abuse and lack for formal schooling to earning a doctorate in Oral Microbiology thanks to the academic and social supports provided by TRIO. A complete copy of Dr. Fischer’s testimony before the subcommittee is available here Document is available for download (.pdf).

During the hearing, Subcommittee Members showed strong support for the TRIO programs. In his opening statement Document is available for download (.pdf), Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole declared that while “[t]he Department of Education’s loan and grant programs make higher education a possibility for millions of Americans... programs such as TRIO and GEAR UP help students to make use of these financial resources... This preparation is essential to helping these students make use of financial aid.” Later in the hearing, Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA-15) stated, “I’ve been very much interested in Gear Up and the TRIO programs in my district. I think that they’ve been effective in helping a lot of students who may not have had a background or families who may not have had a background in higher education.” Meanwhile, Representative Martha Roby (R-AL-2) expressed that “TRIO dollars are so important to work with first generation, low income college students” and reflected on an earlier meeting that week with TRIO representatives from Alabama during during the Council for Opportunity in Education’s 35th Annual Policy Seminar. Overall, the hearing was overwhelmingly positive about the importance and impact of TRIO and GEAR UP in boosting college access and degree attainment among low-income, first-generation students. The hearing in its entirety can be viewed here.

But the conversation has just begun. Legislators in both the House and Senate are taking action. Both chambers rallied together to sign the FY 2016 TRIO Appropriations Request Letter urging a substantial increase in TRIO funding to support the restoration of services for 53,000 students whom have lost access to TRIO since FY 2009.

A total of 27 Senators amassed behind Senator Susan M. Collins (R-ME), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to support our TRIO request in the Senate.

  • Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Senator Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Al Franken (D-MN), Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), Senator Angus S. King, Jr. (I-ME), Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Senator Joe Manchin III (D-WV), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Meanwhile, 97 Representatives joined Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) in support of the TRIO letter in the House.

  • Karen Bass (CA-37), Xavier Becerra (CA-34), Ami Bera (CA-7), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), Madeleine Bordallo (GU-1), Charles W. Boustany (LA-3), Robert Brady (PA-1), Corrine Brown (FL-5), Lois Capps (CA-24), Michael Capuano (MA-7), Andre Carson (IN-7), Matt Cartwright (PA-17), Judy Chu (CA-27), David Cicilline (RI-1), Katherine Clark (MA-5), Yvette Clark (NY-9), Stephen Cohen (TN-9), John Conyers Jr. (MI-13), Joe Courtney (CT-2), Joe Crowley (NY-14), Elijah Cummings (MD-7), Danny Davis (IL-7), Peter DeFazio (OR-4), Diana Degette (CO-1), John Delaney (MD-6), Susan DelBene (WA-1), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Mike Doyle (PA-14), Donna Edwards (MD-4), Eliot Engel (NY-16), Elizabeth Esty (CT-5), Sam Farr (CA-20), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Bill Foster (IL-11), Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2), John Garamendi (CA-3), Al Green (TX-9), Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), Brian Higgins (NY-26), Jim Himes (CT-4), Jared Huffman (CA-2), Henry Johnson (GA-4), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), William Keating (MA-9), Joseph Kennedy (MA-4), Dan Kildee (MI-5), Ann Kuster (NH-2), Jim Langevin (RI-2), John Larson (CT-1), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Sander Levin (MI-9), David Loesback (IA-2), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Ben Ray Lujan (NM-3), Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-1), Stephen Lynch (MA-8), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Jim McDermott (WA-7), Jerry McNerney (CA-9), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Richard Neal (MA-1), Richard Nolan (MN-8), Bill Pascrell (NJ-9), Scott Peters (CA-52), Collin Peterson (MN-7), Pedro Pierluisi (PR-1), Mark Pocan (WI-2), Jared Polis (CO-2), Charles B. Rangel (NY-13), Kathleen Rice (NY-4), Gregorio Sablan (MP-1), John Sarbanes (MD-3), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Adam Schiff (CA-28), Bobby Scott (VA-3), David Scott (GA-13), Terri Sewell (AL-7), Louise M. Slaughter (NY-25), Adam Smith (WA-9), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Eric Swalwell (CA-15), Mark Takai (HI-1), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Niki Tsongas (MA-3), Norma Torres (CA-35), Chris Van Hollen (MD-8), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Filemon Vela (TX-34), Nydia Velazquez (NY-7), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Peter Welch (VT-1), Frederica Wilson (FL-24).

Copies of the House Document is available for download (.pdf) and Senate Document is available for download (.pdf) FY 2016 TRIO appropriations request letters are available on the Bulletin Board.

Congressional Caucuses on Capitol Hill are also rallying is support of the TRIO programs. The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ in its release of “The People’s BudgetDocument is available for download (.pdf), announced TRIO as an educational priority as part of a $300 billion effort to strengthen workforce preparation, facilitate college affordability, and provide access to educational opportunity for every student in the United States. Chaired by Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-5) and Representative Raul Grijalva (AZ-4), the proposal is part of a larger budget request seeking a $1.9 trillion investment in America’s future.

The Congressional Black Caucus has also called for a robust funding increase for TRIO programs in the release of its “Alternative Budget for FY 2016Document is available for download (.pdf). Seeking a $122 billion to increase access to education, the increase is part of a larger package seeking to eradicate poverty through significant and sustained investments of federal resources.

The FY 2016 Budget Season Has Begun!
(February 6, 2015) 

On Monday, February 3, President Obama released his FY 2016 budget request to Congress. This request included a $20 million increase in TRIO funding, for a total appropriation of $859.75 million in FY 2016. Under the President’s proposal, these additional funds would be designated for supplemental funding for current TRIO grantees to launch research-backed interventions that may not be included in the current legislation. The Administration hopes that funding for these types of demonstration projects may yield new information about what strategies work best to boost college access and success as well as inform decision-makers as they move to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965.

While COE strongly supports the President’s proposal, we recognize that it will be an uphill battle to realize this goal under a divided government. Therefore, the entire TRIO community must work diligently with our champions in Congress to secure not only these funds, but also to restore services that have been lost to students in TRIO programs over the last decade; to protect current Talent Search and EOC grantees in the next competition; and to provide additional funds so that more educational institutions and community agencies will be able to provide these vital college access and success services.

A great way to begin forging the relationships necessary to continue prioritizing the TRIO programs is through COE’s upcoming 35th Annual Policy Seminar, which will take place here in Washington, D.C. At this annual event, TRIO professionals, students and alumni will be exposed to the legislative process and given the opportunity to meet with their congressional representatives to share their first-hand experiences with the TRIO programs. As the oldest activity organized by the Council, the Policy Seminar is a cornerstone of TRIO advocacy. It has helped sustain our work turning first-generation, low-income students into college graduates for several decades. As always, this year’s Policy Seminar includes our Leadership Summit Document is available for download (.pdf), a free training for TRIO professionals seeking to harness their skills for service in their state and regional associations, as well as our Seminar on Relations with the U.S. Department of Education. The entire event will take place from March 14-18, 2015. Registration information is available here. To learn more about what happens at Policy Seminar, please view our webinar recording, “Why You Should Come to the COE Policy Seminar.” During this webinar, TRIO leaders share their views about the importance of Policy Seminar and offer insights into various issues, including how to work with your institution to cover costs, best ways to prepare to visit with legislators, etc., etc. Should you have any questions about the Policy Seminar, please contact Kimberly Jones (kimberly.jones@coenet.us) or Selene Ceja (selene.ceja@coenet.us) by e-mail or phone at (202) 347-7430.

TRIO Ends Year on High Note
(December 20, 2014) 

On December 16, 2014, President Obama signed H.R. 83, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act into law. This bill, which was a hybrid omnibus and continuing resolution — known as a “CROmnibus” in the media — included two key provisions relating to TRIO. First, it instructed the U.S. Department of Education to release the final application for the Student Support Services program by December 18, 2014, and to make all grant awards (including grants earned through the review process) by August 10, 2015. (The Department of Education did, in fact, comply with this directive as the final grant application appeared in the Federal Register on December 18 with a reduction in Competitive Preference Points, a reversion back to the 4/6 year transfer/graduation objective and a deadline of February 2, 2015.)

Second, the legislation provided $839.7 million in TRIO funding, representing a $1.5 million increase. Although it may appear to be a small sum, this funding increase is quite significant upon consideration of the fact that the bill cut overall funding for the Department of Education by $166 million and several key programs of that support low-income communities — such as GEAR UP, SEOG, Head Start, and low-income heating assistance (LIHHEAP) — received level-funding. Further still, several other strongly supported programs, such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and even Pell Grants, received funding cuts.

Overall, this bill represents a triumph of TRIO advocacy and our community is to be commended. Looking ahead to next year, the Council is preparing engage in renewed advocacy surrounding the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and, as always, TRIO appropriations.

Government Relations Update
(November 7, 2014) 

This week, Congress returns to Washington to address several issues before the end of this 113th session of Congress. One major issue is funding for TRIO and all other federal programs after December 11, which is when the current funding legislation expires.

It is crucial that all TRIO supporters put pressure on their legislators to pass an omnibus appropriations bill that includes a $52 million funding increase Document is available for download (.pdf) to support a 10% increase in Student Support Services and a 3% increase for all other TRIO programs. Please click here for a step-by-step discussion guide Document is available for download (.pdf) to help you in requesting a funding increase!

Additionally, we continue to fight against the draft Student Support Services grant application that was released and then re-released by the U.S. Department of Education. You can review the recent alert from Council for Opportunity in Education President Maureen Hoyler about this matter here. Now that Congress is back in session, it is critical that ALL supporters of TRIO programs contact their Members of Congress to express their outrage that the Department’s mismanagement of the application process 1) will prevent grant awards from being delivered on time and result in students losing access to crucial services at the time when they need them most and 2) violates the law by reducing the value of applicants’ prior experience points. Step-by-step instructions for addressing the SSS challenge are available here.

Remember, this is not just a fight that involves one program, but all TRIO programs. What happens to one program impacts us all.

What Happens Next with TRIO Funding?
(October 15, 2014) 

In mid-September, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution or “CR” to maintain level funding for TRIO and every other federal program through December 11, 2014. (A continuing resolution is a type of funding bill that authorizes the government to keep spending money past the end of the federal fiscal year — September 30th — at the same levels as the previous fiscal year without any changes.) Upon Congress’ return to Washington in mid-November following the mid-term elections, it may take one of the following actions with respect to federal funding.

  1. Enact an “omnibus” appropriations bill. In contrast to a continuing resolution, which puts everything on autopilot, an omnibus appropriations bill allows Congress to pass all 12 of the individual appropriations bills in a single legislative package. (Please visit the National Priorities Project for a clear and concise explanation of the difference between a continuing resolution and an omnibus appropriations bill.) This allows Congress to make specific funding choices — to make funding increases and funding cuts — but to do so quickly. An omnibus appropriations bill is the best possible option as it would provide the greatest opportunity for us to secure our $52 million funding increase request Document is available for download (.pdf)! This request is particularly important for Student Support Services projects as the number and size of those grants will be determined by our FY 2015 appropriation. Please click here for specific talking points relating to Student Support Services Document is available for download (.pdf).
  2. Enact an omnibus appropriations bill that contains some, but not all 12 bills and extend the CR for the remaining bills. This is a less favorable scenario as the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (“LHHS”) appropriations bill, which funds TRIO, would likely be included in the CR and result in level funding. Why would the LHHS bill be included in the CR? Because it includes more controversial funding matters — like the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), abortion funding, etc.
  3. Extend the current CR for all 12 bills for the remainder of the fiscal year (i.e., until September 30, 2015). This is definitely not a favorable scenario as it eliminates the possibility for increases in TRIO funding for all of next year.
  4. Extend the current CR until early next year. Congress may delay making a final decision about FY 2015 funding until, say, March of next year. While this will continue the uncertainty of TRIO funding, it will also provide additional opportunities for TRIO supporters to fight for further funding increases.

As the Council for Opportunity in Education highlighted during our 33rd Annual Conference Document is available for download (.pdf), our legacy is one of bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats each have a distinct appreciation for TRIO and the ways it works within their own communities. Legislators always have to make tough choices and due to our ardent advocacy and their understanding of your life-changing work with students and families, they have made those choices in favor of TRIO. Ultimately, it is critical that all TRIO supporters continue to take advantage of the last few weeks of mid-term election season to demonstrate the impact of TRIO in the lives of your students, your schools, your communities, and our nation as a whole.

The Government Relations team at the Council is always here to assist you. Please feel free to e-mail them at any time — Kimberly A. Jones (kimberly.jones@coenet.us) and Heath Alexander (heath.alexander@coenet.us). You may also reach them by calling our D.C. office directly at (202) 347-7430.