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.

Omnibus Passes; TRIO Funds Restored!
(January 22, 2014) 

“Strengthening Federal Access Programs to Meet 21st Century Needs — A Look at TRIO and GEAR UP” In mid-January 2014, legislators came together to pass the FY 2014 omnibus appropriations bill that restored $1.6 billion in sequester cuts to the U.S. Department of Education. In particular, this provided a $42 million increase for TRIO, which will restore 95% of the funding lost to sequestration during Program Year 2014-2015. Ultimately, TRIO and GEAR UP landed among just a handful of programs in the U.S. Department of Education that received nearly full restoration of the funds cut by sequestration.

The good news of the omnibus bill was quickly followed by a series of events at which the issues of college access and success took center stage. First, on January 16, 2014, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hosted a roundtable, “Strengthening Federal Access Programs to Meet 21st Century Needs — A Look at TRIO and GEAR UP.” The roundtable featured testimonies from COE President Maureen Hoyler as well as 2013 National TRIO Achiever Cornelius Griggs and Hibbing Community College Upward Bound Director Tallie Sertich. The work of TRIO advocates in the field was evident as several Members of the Committee expressed strong knowledge and support of TRIO programs in their lines of questioning. This roundtable serves as a starting point for the consideration of both TRIO and GEAR UP issues in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. (A video of the roundtable and copies of panelists’ remarks are available here.)

Later that day, COE President Maureen Hoyler went to the White House to participate in a convening of college presidents, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, private sector partners, and others to discuss promising models for increasing access for low-income students. In their remarks, both the President and the First Lady emphasized their personal commitments to the issue of low-income student success. In an accompanying report, Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students Document is available for download (.pdf), the White House cataloged the commitments of COE and other stakeholders to this mission. Additionally, in their statements of commitment Document is available for download (.pdf), several institutions highlighted the work of TRIO programs on their campuses as examples of ways that they are already succeeding in the areas of college access and success.

All in all, these events represent a strong recognition of the critical work of our programs and students. They set the stage for even more success in the year to come.

Budget Deal Passes and Appropriators Get to Work
(December 24, 2013) 

After weeks of closed door negotiations, budget conference chairs Patty Murray (D-WA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. This bill willrestore $63 billion in sequester cuts over fiscal years 2014 and 2015 and provide equal relief to both defense and non-defense programs. Of particular note is the fact that this legislation provides enough funding to restore 87% of the cuts endured by non-defense programs in FY 2013. Thus, if these additional monies were applied equally across all non-defense programs, they would restore 87 cents of every dollar TRIO programs lost this year.

While it is unclear exactly how the funds will be allocated, it remains clear that the Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are eager to make targeted spending decisions for priority issues and programs as a result of this budget agreement. They are so enthused that they will forego their holiday break in order to draft an omnibus appropriations package and have it ready for passage before January 15, 2014. (This is the date that the current funding bill expires.)

  • What does all this mean? — Over the next several weeks — including this holiday break — the entire TRIO community will have the opportunity to win increased funding andreverse the losses caused by sequestration!

    This is our best opportunity to secure the $850 million approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee for TRIO last July. This is enough funding to reverse the 5.23% sequester cut as well as provide additional increases to support all TRIO programs!

  • What must we do? — We must engage all TRIO staff, students, parents, alumni, and other supporters to call the LOCAL offices of Appropriators with the following message.

    “I need [APPROPRIATOR NAME] to fight for $850 million in TRIO funding in the FY 2014!”

    A list of the local office numbers for Appropriations Committee Members is available here Document is available for download (.pdf).

  • What other information should I be prepared to share? — You should be prepared to discuss the impact of TRIO in your local community. TRIO directors and staff should talk about the cuts that the programs have had to endure (fewer students served, reduced program services, staffing cuts, etc.). You may wish to share success stories or statistics about your students and programs as well.

  • Why are we calling local offices instead of calling Washington, D.C.? — Most congressional staff will be away from D.C. for the holiday break. Also, we want to emphasize that this is a LOCAL effort by concerned citizens. Therefore, reaching out to the local offices of Appropriators is the best course of action at this time. In the beginning of January, COE will advise everyone when they should begin calling Washington, D.C.

  • What if I live/work in an area that is represented by legislators who do not sit on the Appropriations Committees? — If you live or work in an area that is represented by legislators who are not Members of the Appropriations Committees in the House or Senate, we encourage you to reach out to your own legislators and urge them to go to their colleagues who are on the Appropriations Committees and fight on your behalf. Here is a sample message... "My name is ________ and I am a resident of ________. I need ________ to work with the leaders of the Appropriations Committee fund TRIO at $850 million in FY 2014!" Local contact information for all legislators is available online at (http://www.contactingthecongress.org/).

  • What about sending e-mail messages? What about social media? — As most of the congressional staff that would track e-mail and social media messages will be on vacation, the best option at this time is to reach out to the local office.

  • How long should we keep calling? — This effort should continue throughout the holiday season and not let up until January 15, 2014. (This is the date when the current funding bill will expire and the target date by which the Appropriators hope to pass the bill that will fund the remainder of FY 2014.) COE will definitely keep you all posted on the process as it unfolds and provide updated guidance as necessary.

  • Why are we asking for $850 million in funding? — This is the funding level that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved for TRIO last July. (The House Appropriations Committee never released a bill because their proposed funding levels were too low to pass muster.)

  • How else can I help increase our chances of getting $850 million in funding for FY 2014? — Get everyone else you know involved — from your friends and neighbors to your college presidents and local leaders (pastors, rabbis, community organizers, etc.)! In order to stand out among the crowd, TRIO is going to have to have a LOUD voice that includes everyday citizens and prominent local leaders as well. COE is happy to provide additional guidance to anyone interested in taking action on behalf of TRIO funding!

  • What if I have additional questions over the holiday break? — Our work at COE is never done! Just as we are asking you to be active over the holiday break, we will be active, too! If anyone should have any questions or concerns, or simply wish to share feedback from these efforts, please don't hesitate to contact Kimberly Jones by e-mail at (kimberly.jones@coenet.us), by phone at (202) 347-7430, Ext. #381, or by mobile at (202) 489-6745.

Thank you for your continued work on behalf of low-income, first-generation students across the nation!

Congress Strikes Deal to Re-Open Government and Avert Default — Implications for TRIO Programs
(October 16, 2013) 

Dear Colleagues,

On the evening of October 16, 2013, the Senate passed legislation to re-open the government and avert a default on the nation’s debt. This legislation includes provisions to:

  • Fund the government at current levels through January 15, 2014;
  • Suspend the debt limit until February 7, 2014 and require that in future debt ceiling decisions, the debt ceiling will automatically be raised unless Congress disapproves raising the debt ceiling;
  • Return to “regular order” by establishing a budget conference committee to come up with a long-term spending plan by December 13, 2013;
  • Provide back pay for furloughed federal employees including those at the U.S. Department of Education.

I firmly believe this is a good agreement for TRIO for two reasons.

First, by requiring an affirmative vote by both chambers to disapprove raising the debt limit, the agreement should prevent either political party from using decisions to raise the debt limit as a bargaining chip in resolving spending issues. (You’ll recall that sequestration — the 5.23% cut that each TRIO program suffered this program year — was imposed as a result of an agreement between Congress and the Administration that was made during negotiations over the debt ceiling in 2011.)

Second, Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who forged this agreement specifically indicated that in returning to “regular order” and negotiating a budget agreement for FY 2014 (TRIO program year 2014-15), they anticipated that some sequestration cuts would be reversed.

The House is expected to take up the legislation later this evening or possibly tomorrow morning. Speaker of the House John Boehner confirmed a willingness to support this bipartisan agreement, even without the support of the majority of the Republicans in the House. With all 200 Members of the House Democratic Caucus expected to support the legislation, it is virtually certain to pass both chambers of Congress and arrive on President Obama’s desk tomorrow.

This thaw in Washington gridlock provides advocates who are committed to increasing opportunities for low-income students to achieve college access and success with a window of opportunity to press upon legislators the need to reverse the loss of students in TRIO. It gives us the opportunity to ensure that the cuts to each of our programs are restored and that institutions planning to compete for Student Support Services funding next fall — who are committed to providing high quality retention and transfer services — will have a realistic chance to secure funding.

Thanks you for your outstanding advocacy on behalf of TRIO.

Sincerely,

Maureen Hoyler
President
Council for Opportunity in Education

And Then They Shut Down the Government
(October 8, 2013) 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013, marked the beginning of Fiscal Year 2014. It also marked the first time in nearly two decades that the federal government shut down. After a week of posturing, it is clear that no immediate end is in sight. Rather, the government will likely remain closed for a few weeks, and then re-open via a (short-term) funding bill that will also raise the federal debt ceiling. (The Secretary of the Treasury has indicated that the United States will hit its federal borrowing limit on October 17. You can read more about the implications of this here.)

Despite these concerns, the primary focus for the TRIO community must be securing the $849.9 million approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this year. For, once the federal government is up and running and once the debt ceiling has been raised, Congress will consider the question of how to fund the government for the remainder of FY 2014. Therefore, we must keep our sights on securing this additional funding. The sum of $849.9 million would not only restore the 5.23% cut to all programs, but also allow for a 3-4% increase for next year's Student Support Services competition.

How can we ensure we get this funding boost in FY 2014?

  • Contact your legislators!Use this webtool to find the phone numbers and e-mail contact forms for all of your Members of Congress.
  • Ask them directly! — This updated set of talking points Document is available for download (.pdf) walks you through how to ask your legislators directly for increased funds for TRIO in FY 2014!
  • Bring your legislators to campus! — Now is a critical time to get your legislators in front of your students, administrators, parents and other supporters. Use this guide Document is available for download (.pdf) to help you in arranging for a local campus visit between now and the end of the year.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up! — Let them know that we are counting on them to take action and boost funding for TRIO!

We urge all TRIO staff, students, alumni and other supporters to contact their legislators early and often to demand this funding increase for TRIO in FY 2014!

Federal Funding Deadlines Fast Approaching
(September 16, 2013) 

October 2014 is going to be a critical month. Not only does October 1 mark the beginning of Fiscal Year 2014, but the United States could default on its spending obligations as early as October 18. That is, of course, unless Congress and the White House reach an agreement over how to fund the government in both the short and the long-term.

The situation changes from day to day. On Wednesday, September 11, a government shutdown seemed inevitable. By Monday, September 16, however, news reports indicated that House Republican leadership would rather avoid a government shutdown and instead wage a larger battle over raising the debt ceiling. (You will recall that in order to raise the debt ceiling, Congress and the White House will have to achieve a grand bargain that will have to consist of either tax increases, changes to entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, etc.), additional cuts in discretionary spending, or some combination of these.)

Regardless of the ever-changing status of negotiations, one thing is clear — the TRIO community must remain vigilant throughout this process! If we fail to do so, leaders in Washington may cut a deal that, once again, leads to even more dollars lost and even fewer low-income, first-generation students being served! It was the debt ceiling deal of 2011 that lead to sequestration and the 5.23% cut we experienced in FY 2013.

It is critical that all TRIO supporters — staff, students, alumni, etc. — to not only take action themselves but also to recruit FIVE OTHER PEOPLE (co-workers, neighbors, relatives, church members, etc.) and contact your legislators (using COE's webtool) to loudly proclaim our message.

  • In any debt ceiling agreement, Congress MUST end the sequester!
  • Congress MUST restore funding for priority programs like TRIO!

We have several tools to help you in making this such outreach...

  • Contact the Congress — Simply input your address and this webpage will pull up complete contact information for your legislators and also allow you to send them a message
  • COE Government Relations PowerPoint presentation Document is available for download (.ppt) — The presentation from the 32nd Annual Conference in Chicago, IL featuring all of the most relevant points for your information
  • TRIO Sequestration Survey Document is available for download (.pdf) — Information about how the sequester has impacted TRIO in terms of students and services lost
  • COE’s In The News and Multimedia pages — Information about the success of TRIO programs and students

If you ever have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Government Relations team via e-mail (heather.valentine@coenet.us) and (kimberly.jones@coenet.us), or by phone at (202) 347-7430. Together we will win this fight for our students and programs!

Previous Alerts

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.