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.

Starts and Stops on Capitol Hill
(September 7, 2014) 

In mid-June, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY 2015 funding bill, which included an $8.4 million increase in TRIO funding for a total appropriation of $846.7 million. This funding level — along with similar increases to programs like GEAR UP, Federal Work Study, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and aid to Minority-Serving Institutions — represented a deliberate decision by the leadership of the Senate Subcommittee to continue its path towards restoration of the cuts endured by key higher education programs as a result of sequestration instead of investing in brand new proposed initiatives. Indeed, Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa listed TRIO among the highlights of the bill.

Unfortunately, the Senate Subcommittee bill represents the only action appropriations action on education this year. With all eyes squarely focused on the November 4 midterm elections, it is clear that Congress will not pass ANY individual appropriations bills until after that time. In the interim, Congress will pass a Continuing Resolution or “CR,” which maintains current funding levels past the end of the federal fiscal year (September 30). The path forward will not be clear until after the election results emerge — particularly in the U.S. Senate, which may switch from Democratic to Republican control. Therefore, until such time, our community must remain vigilant.

Between now and November 4 — Election Day — lawmakers will spend the bulk of their time back in their home States and Districts stumping for local votes. Be sure to take advantage of this fact by inviting your Member of Congress to campus! We also encourage programs to share student success story via e-mail or social media, and reminding them that you and your program are ready to work to create more economic opportunity for all Americans. Remember, only a few weeks remain until Congress decides the appropriation for TRIO in FY15. Let’s continue building and fostering these crucial relationships with our congressional leaders!

TRIO Community Requests $52 Million Increase in FY 2015!
(April 22, 2014) 

In late March, more than 500 TRIO educators, students, and alumni took to Capitol Hill to request a $52 million increase in TRIO funding in FY 2015. If successful, this increase would yield a total appropriation of $890 million in TRIO funding for FY 2015. Ideally, this would support a 10% expansion of the Student Support Services program in the upcoming grant competition as well as a 3% increase in students across all existing TRIO grants. In total, an additional 43,000 students would be served. Such restoration is critical as nearly 120,000 students have been stripped of the life-altering services provided by TRIO due to funding cuts over the last decade.

To support this request, advocates solicited signatures for appropriations request letters in the House and Senate. The House letter Document is available for download (.pdf), which was led by Representatives Gwen Moore (D-WI), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), and Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ), included 142 total signatures by the following legislators — Barber, Bass, Beatty, Becerra, Bishop, Blumenauer, Bonamici, Bordallo, Braley, Brown, Brownley, Butterfield, Capps, Capuano, Cardenas, Carson, Cartwright, Castro, Christensen, Chu, Cicilline, Clark (MA), Clark (NY), Cleaver, Cohen, Cole, Conyers Jr., Courtney, Crowley, Cummings, Davis (IL), DeFazio, DeGette, Delaney, DelBene, Dingell, Duckworth, Ellison, Engel, Enyart, Eshoo, Esty, Faleomavaega, Farr, Fattah, Foster, Frankel, Fudge, Gabbard, Gallego, Garamendi, Grayson, Green (TX-9), Green (TX-29), Grijalva, Gutierrez, Hanabusa, Hastings, Heck (WA), Higgins, Himes, Hinojosa, Holt, Horsford, Huffman, Israel, Jackson Lee, Johnson, Jr., Keating, Kennedy, Kilmer, Kind, Kirkpatrick, Kuster, Langevin, Lee, Lewis, Loebsack, Lofgren, Lowenthal, Luján, Lujan Grisham, Lynch, Maloney (NY-12), Maloney (NY-18), McCarthy, McDermott, McGovern, McKinley, McLeod, McNerney, Meeks, Meng, Michaud, Nadler, Napolitano, Neal, Nolan, Norton, O'Rourke, Owens, Pallone, Jr., Pascrell, Jr., Peters (MI), Peters (CA), Peterson, Pierluisi, Pingree, Pocan, Price (NC), Rahall, Rangel, Ruppersberger, Sanchez (CA-38), Sarbanes, Schakowsky, Scott (GA), Scott (VA), Sires, Slaughter, Smith, Swalwell, Takano, Thompson (MS), Thompson (CA), Tierney, Titus, Tonko, Tsongas, Vargas, Veasey, Vela, Velazquez, Walz, Waters, Welch, Wilson, Yarmuth, and Young.

Meanwhile, in the Senate letter Document is available for download (.pdf), which was led by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME), gathered a total of 38 signatures from the following legislators — Blumenthal, Boxer, Brown, Cardin, Carper, Crapo, Durbin, Franken, Gillibrand, Hagan, Heinrich, Heitkamp, Hirono, Hoeven, Johnson (SD), Kaine, King, Klobuchar, Leahy, Levin, Manchin, Markey, Menendez, Murphy, Reed, Rockefeller, Sanders, Schatz, Schumer, Shaheen, Stabenow, Tester, Walsh, Warren, Whitehouse, and Wyden.

Additionally, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (“LHHS”) Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate have begun their work for the upcoming fiscal year. In late March, the House LHHS Subcommittee hosted a Public Witness Hearing that featured Dr. Charles Robinson, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Robinson testified Document is available for download (.pdf) about the impact of TRIO on the University of Arkansas’ campus as well as the surrounding community. (To watch the video of Dr. Robinson's testimony, please click here. Starts at 01:11:00.) Two weeks later, the House LHHS Subcommittee hosted Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who discussed the Administration FY 2015 budget request. During this testimony, Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL) took the Secretary to task for proposing over $1 billion in new initiatives to support college access and completion initiatives for low-income students while simultaneously level-funding TRIO. She specifically cited the Alabama TRIO Fact book in making her point.

The TRIO community must continue to sound the drumbeat in support of its appropriations request throughout the spring and summer. To do this effectively, programs are urged to bring Members of Congress to visit their programs Document is available for download (.pdf), write letters Document is available for download (.pdf), and use social media to spread the TRIO message! Please continue to check the FY 2015 Call to Action section of our website for the latest talking points and materials to assist you in these efforts.

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

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

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.