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.

A Real Increase for TRIO Programs
(December 18, 2015) 

After a lengthy round of negotiations, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, which included a $60 million funding increase for TRIO, for a total funding level of $900 million for Program Year 2016-2017. This represents the third largest increase among all programs funded within the U.S. Department of Education. (The legislation also included a $21 million increase for GEAR UP and increased the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,915.) This legislation easily passed both the House (316 to 113) and the Senate (65-33), thus signifying a clear victory for new House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

In total, this $60 million represents a 7.2% overall increase in TRIO funding. It also represents the first opportunity in eight years to provide a real increase to existing grant awards. Therefore, COE is now turning its attention to assuring that every currently-funded TRIO project is meeting its obligations to students and that the Department sees the benefit of this increase. For example, if the Department held aside $20 million of the $60 million to fund new EOC and Talent Search programs, each existing program would still see an increase in their 2016-2017 funding level of 4.9% over 2015-2016. Even though it is unknown at this time how the Department of Education will allocate these funds, it is our expectation that the Department will not only increase the field of new Talent Search and Educational Opportunity Center awards in the FY 2016 competitions, but also boost existing grant awards so that they can provide more enhanced services to even more students.

In addition to providing a substantial boost in TRIO funding, the legislation also provided guidance to the Department of Education in its accompanying report language. More specifically, Congress encouraged the Department to publish the applications for the Talent Search and EOC competitions as soon as possible and to issue grant awards by July 31, 2016. Congress also echoed our community’s concerns regarding the competitive preference priorities for Talent Search and urged the Secretary to give fair value to prior experience points.

All in all, this legislation demonstrates the very real impact of your advocacy. Just as you have reached out to ask your legislators for an increase all year long, we now ask you to contact your House Representative and Senators to offer a word of thanks for this funding increase to support low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities. Contact information for all Members of Congress is available at (http://www.contactingthecongress.org/). You can also reach any congressional office by dialing the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121.

In the Home Stretch
(November 2, 2015) 

During the final days of October, thanks to a strong push from advocates across the nation like you, Congress voted to raise the budget caps by $80 billion over the next two years. The House passed the bill by a vote of 266-167 and the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 64 to 35. This bill, the known as the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015,” also raised the debt ceiling until March 2017.

Now that the budget levels have been raised, Members of the Appropriations Committees in both chambers of Congress will negotiate a massive, year-end spending package known as an “omnibus bill” that will fund the entire federal government for the rest of the fiscal year.

Therefore, between now and December 11 (when the current funding bill, known as a “continuing resolution” ends), the entire TRIO community must e-mail, call, and write to their legislators to let them know the importance of receiving the $60 million funding increase approved by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this summer.

Here is a quick, three-sentence message that you can share with your legislators via e-mail or phone.

Hello, my name is __________ and I’m calling from __________ to urge __________ to support an omnibus appropriations bill that includes a $60 million increase in funding for TRIO programs.

As __________ is aware, TRIO helps over 785,000 low-income, first-generation students, and students with disabilities to prepare for, enter, and successfully complete college.

I know that __________ will be faced with difficult decisions about federal spending, but trust that __________ will support a $60 million increase for TRIO because [he/she] is well aware that, here in __________, TRIO works!

You can connect directly with your legislators using the portal on the COE website at (http://www.congressweb.com/coe/legislators).

Looking for other ways to advocate? Check out Ten Ways to Advocate for TRIO!

We need your voices now more than ever. Tomorrow is TRIO Tuesday. Please take time to share why #TRIOWORKS and, if you can, share your activities with the entire TRIO Community using the #TRIOTUESDAY hashtag via social media.

Please be on the lookout for details regarding conference calls later this week. In the meantime, please contact the GR team with any questions, inquiries or updates via e-mail (kimberly.jones@coenet.us) (selene.ceja@coenet.us) or phone (202) 347-7430. Remember, it’s not over until we see that $60 million increase!

Clock Ticking for Action on a New Budget Deal
(October 13, 2015) 

Autumn got off to an eventful start as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his intention to retire from Congress on October 31, 2015. This move was pivotal in that it freed the Republican leadership to negotiate a temporary spending bill to prevent a government shutdown. At the same time, however, it also caused Members to scramble as they seek to find new leadership. Moments before the internal caucus vote, the front-runner current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) withdrew from the race. As of this writing, House Republicans continue to search for a path forward.

Meanwhile, the government continues to operate under a short-term Continuing Resolution (“CR”) that virtually level-funds all federal programs through December 11. Between now and then, it is incumbent upon all TRIO supporters — program personnel, students, alumni, community leaders, and others — to urge Congress to “raise the caps”!

Now, you may be wondering — “What does it mean to ‘raise the caps’ and why must Congress do so?”

Back in 2011 Congress passed the “Budget Control Act,” which ultimately led to the 5% cut across-the-board cut (“sequestration”) that we experienced in FY 2013 (Program Year 2013-2014). Realizing that this funding scenario was not workable, Congress then passed the “Bipartisan Budget Control Act,” which provided temporary by increasing the amount of money Congress could spend in Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015.

That is, Congress “raised the caps” for two years.

Now that it is Fiscal Year 2016, Congress is, once again, subject to tight spending limits. Therefore, the only way that TRIO will be able to receive the $60 million funding increase approved by the House Appropriations Committee is if Congress strikes a new budget deal to “raise the caps.”

For ideas about how you can reach out to your legislators, visit (http://bit.ly/TRIOTUESDAY). For more background on the current budget crisis, visit (http://bit.ly/FY16budgetinfo) and (http://bit.ly/RaiseTheCaps).

Appropriations Action on Capitol Hill
(July 1, 2015) 

On Wednesday, June 17, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (“LHHS”) met to “markup” its FY 2016 bill. As a result of lower spending caps, this year’s LHHS bill saw a $3.7 billion reduction in funding. However, due to our continuous advocacy efforts, TRIO programs received a $60 million increase (for a total of $900 million) in the proposed funding legislation. Multiple Members supported the increase to TRIO including Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK-4) who noted TRIO as a “priority investment” Document is available for download (.pdf) in his opening statement. Full Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY-5) applauded the increase commenting, “rightly so” to the proposed 7% increase to TRIO and GEAR UP [00:26:30-44]. Meanwhile, Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA-2) also praised Chairman Cole’s support of TRIO and GEAR UP, noting their “shared... interest [in] getting young people headed in the right direction” [1:10:45-55].

When it met the following week, the full Appropriations Committee in the House affirmed this $60 million funding increase for TRIO. That same week, however, the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee met to mark up its FY 2016 bill. In the Senate Subcommittee bill, which was confirmed by the Committee as a whole, TRIO was level-funded at the FY 2015 appropriation of $840 million.

Despite this recent action in the House and Senate, it is highly unlikely that either bill will be considered on the floor of its respective chamber. Rather, Republicans and Democrats have “plunged headfirst into an epic summer spending bill”. Democrats have vowed to block every funding measure until Republicans agree to negotiate a broad, bipartisan budget deal that adjusts the spending caps which severely limit the dollars available for domestic priorities. Due to this standoff we expect that there will be at least a short term “continuing resolution” to ensure the government remains open after the beginning of the next fiscal year on October 1, 2015.

Will we get a $60 Million increase? Only you can decide.

Congress will be in recess from July 31 to September 7 this summer. This is valuable time to put TRIO at the forefront of legislators’ minds. Therefore, we urge you to continue inviting your Members of Congress to campus, visiting their offices, attending their town halls and letting them know TRIO WORKS!

Need help? Have questions on how to get started? Contact our Government Relations team via e-mail [Kimberly Jones at (kimberly.jones@coenet.us) and Selene Ceja at (selene.ceja@coenet.us)] or by phone at (202) 347-7430 for assistance, or to just to let us know how you are making TRIO advocacy work!

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 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.