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Washington Update

APLU Analysis of New Build Back Better Act
President Biden announced the details of a new framework for the Build Back Better Act last week, capping off days of negotiations. The approximately $1.85 trillion framework details a broad array of domestic investments. Lawmakers have released updated Build Back Better Act bill text and section by section. APLU expressed support for Congress to advance the legislation. The association also prepared a preliminary analysis of the provisions of interest to public universities.

Despite cuts from what President Biden initially proposed, the legislation still includes many core higher education priorities, including:

  • Increasing the maximum Pell grant by $550 for four years, available to students attending public and private non-profit institutions.
  • Making Dreamers eligible for Pell Grants and other Title IV federal aid and excluding Pell Grants from a student’s taxable income.
  • Making a $500 million investment in a new College Completion Fund.
  • Investing $6 billion in Title III programs that support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).
  • Investing $3 billion for a Research and Development Infrastructure Competitive Grant Program for HBCUs and other MSIs.

On the research side, the Build Back Better package contains an $8.6 billion research section that provides for investment in research programs and scientific infrastructure. The bill includes $3.5 billion for the National Science Foundation, including: $1.5 billion to help launch a new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnership; $200 million for building research capacity and $100 million for research infrastructure at HBCUs and MSIs; and $100 million for mid-scale research infrastructure. Additionally, separate from the research section the bill also provides $3.36 billion for the Economic Development Administration to invest in the creation of regional innovation hubs.

Within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the legislation provides $1 billion for agriculture research infrastructure through the Research Facilities Act (RFA) at HBCUs and MSIs as well as $1 billion in funding for important capacity and competitive programs within the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). APLU sent a letter to Congress requesting additional RFA funding to address the infrastructure backlog at 1862 land grant institutions given their role in advancing agriculture climate science.

While the legislation includes provisions to extend green cards to undocumented immigrants and recapture unused family and employment-based visas, it remains to be determined whether the Senate Parliamentarian will find these parts of the bill consistent with budget reconciliation rules.

Unfortunately, as the package was cut down the bond provisions on advance refunding and a new direct-pay bond program were stripped from the bill. The $2.5 billion provision for a Public University Research Infrastructure Tax Credit was retained in the bill.

Update on White House COVID Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors
The White House COVID-19 Taskforce released updated guidance for federal contractors on the Biden administration vaccine mandate. The new guidance provides important new answers to questions APLU members have been asking such as obligations of federal contractors if covered employees refuse vaccination and expectations of federal agency action if contractors are out of compliance.

APLU understands additional guidance, which will address questions of the higher education community, is forthcoming.

Higher Education Associations Push for Bipartisan Technical Corrections Package to Veterans Education Bills
Last week, APLU joined again with the higher education community in a letter pushing for a bipartisan technical corrections bill to address issues created through recent veterans’ education legislation, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement (Isakson Roe) Act and the Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) Act.

Earlier this month, APLU joined the higher education community in letters supporting both H.R. 5509, the Student Veteran COVID-19 Protection Act, and H.R. 5545, the Responsible Education Mitigating Options and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act (see here and here). These bills are largely similar and together, provide a framework for a bipartisan technical corrections bill. APLU understands that the committee leadership is committed to passing this legislation as soon as possible.

Associations Public Charge Letter
APLU joined the higher education community in sending comments to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on “public charge” and the development of a future regulatory proposal. The association letter expresses hope that a “new proposed rule on public change will reverse several of the problematic provisions included in the previous administration’s final rule so that American students with immigrant family members may access Title IV federal student aid; foreign students, upon graduation, may become legally employed in the United States; and our institutions may provide important social services to our students, families, and communities.”

The comments in the letter are based on previous community comments from when the Trump administration issued rules around public charge in 2018.

  • Council on Governmental Affairs

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