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Washington Update: Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Advances in the Senate; APLU Helps Lead Higher Ed Comments on BLS Postsecondary Job Code Consolidation Proposal; and IRS Announces Steps to Address International Student 1042-S Errors

June 14, 2016

Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Advances in the Senate
Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bipartisan Labor-HHS-Education (LHHS-ED) funding bill by a vote of 29-1. The bill would fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $34.084 billion, a $2 billion (6.2%) increase from FY2016 enacted. Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) Title VII and Title VIII programs would be funded at $527 million, a $35 million (7.1%) increase from FY2016. The Senate FY17 LHHS-ED appropriations bill funds Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) at $324 million, a $10 million (-2.9%) cut from FY2016.

Under the bill, the maximum Pell Grant for FY2017 would be $5,935, a $120 increase from FY2016.  In addition, the Senate LHHS-ED bill reinstates year-round Pell Grants. The reinstated year-round Pell program is modeled after the program included in S. 1062, the “Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act,” which does not have a minimum credit requirement or acceleration clause for eligibility.

Reinstating year-round Pell in FY2017 would cost $1.2 billion ($950 million in discretionary funding and $250 million in mandatory funding).  Funding year-round Pell would not require a rescission from the Pell surplus; it simply would increase the cost of the Pell program and deplete the surplus more quickly. 

The LHHS-ED legislation also would rescind $1.2 billion from the Pell surplus to fund other programs under the bill.  (It is a coincidence that the rescission amount is the same amount as the cost of year-round Pell for FY2017.) 

International Education Programs (IEP) would be funded at $67 million, a $5 million (-6.9%) decrease from FY2016. Under IEP, the Fulbright-Hays program would be cut by $5 million while the domestic programs would be level-funded.

The Senate LHHS-ED bill would fund the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at $613 million, a $5 million (-0.8%) reduction from FY2016. The Senate bill would reduce funding for the IES Research, Development and Dissemination account by $5 million from FY2016. The Senate FY17 LHHS-ED bill also would cut $490,000 from the National Assessment of Educational Progress account.

The bill would not provide any funding for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), which was also not funded in FY2016. And Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work Study, TRIO, and GEARUP are all level funded.

In a statement, APLU President Peter McPherson praised provisions of the bill that would bolster NIH funding, increase the maximum Pell Grant, and restore year-round Pell. He also expressed disappointment that the bill contains a $1.2 billion rescission from the Pell surplus to fund priorities outside of Pell noting that the Pell surplus is needed to protect the long-term fiscal health of the program.

APLU Helps Lead Higher Ed Comments on BLS Postsecondary Job Code Consolidation Proposal

The Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has proposed consolidating a number of Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes, which are relevant to postsecondary teaching positions.

This is a significant issue for universities because these job codes are used to determine the range of salaries for international workers on employment visas such as H-1Bs as well as employment-based green cards. This process requires a prevailing wage determination from the Department of Labor that is based off the job code. Under the BLS proposal, the codes for faculty who may be more highly compensated (i.e., those in engineering) would be consolidated into codes for faculty typically not as highly compensated (i.e., those in art and music). The upshot is that prevailing wage determinations would be less likely to reflect actual prevailing wages for impacted positions. Ultimately, wage determinations could be excessively high or excessively low depending on the position.

APLU, in partnership with NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the Association of American Universities, and others, submitted comments to note concerns. APLU has also reached out to the House Education & Workforce and Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committees to make them aware of our concerns.

IRS Announces Steps to Address International Student 1042-S Errors

Since February, thousands of international students have erroneously received letters from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) denying them tax refunds or assessing tax bills for the 2014 tax year. The letters have resulted in significant concern for students and frustration for institutions attempting to rectify the problems. Many letters claim there is a mismatch between data reported on the students’ 1042-S form and what is reported by institutions to the IRS. The 1042-S reports payments, and corresponding withholding from those payments, to foreign nationals.

At first, the IRS faulted the software of third-party vendors used by colleges and universities as the reason for the errors.  The IRS has now said its processing systems are at fault and has outlined the steps it is taking to rectify the situation including:

  • Working as quickly as possible to identify all the taxpayers whose refunds are being held as a result of this process;
  • Releasing the hold and issuing the refunds (with interest, in instances where IRS has exceeded the 180 calendar-day period for processing these refunds) as soon as the taxpayers are identified;
  • Eliminating any balance due and stop levy notices for students whose withholding credits were denied; and
  • Not holding any additional refunds until it redesigns the current process for detecting fraudulent or questionable returns and refunds.
  • Council on Governmental Affairs

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