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.

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.

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!

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.