Senate ‘almost certain’ it will not cut aid programs, GOP leader tells DeVos

Dive Brief:

  • Lawmakers are not expected to pass cuts President Donald Trump proposed to federal student aid programs, a high-ranking senator told U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday. 

  • Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said it’s “almost certain” legislators won’t agree to trim programs such as Federal Work-Study, which Trump suggested reducing in his draft budget for the 2021 fiscal year.

  • Trump tried to slash Federal Work-Study and grant programs such as TRIO in previous years, but proved unsuccessful. 

Dive Insight:

The White House four years running has put forward deep cuts to the U.S. Department of Education that Congress has ultimately rejected. Trump is seeking to reduce the agency’s funding by roughly 8% in the most recent funding package.

His proposal attempts to eliminate all money for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which allows public servants such as teachers and police officers to have their loans erased if they make a decade of consistent payments. 

He has also gone after TRIO and another grant program that benefits low-income sudents, GEAR UP, seeking to consolidate them into a single program. Congress has defended these initiatives, keeping the two grants separate in prior years and boosting funding for them.

During a hearing Thursday held by the Senate’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, Blunt, who chairs the panel, told DeVos that lawmakers would likely not pass cuts to the aforementioned grants. He also said they wouldn’t likely cut Federal Work-Study funding, which Trump’s draft budget shrinks by $680 million. 

Observers have expressed frustration that Trump has continually proposed these cuts without any apparent political appetite, even among conservative lawmakers, to go along with them.

Though Blunt indicated lawmakers’ continued unwillingness to pass the current budget proposal, he told DeVos her ideas were “bold.” During the hearing, other senators on the subcommittee mentioned the administration’s desire to expand Pell Grants and make them more flexible. The budget would allow certain incarcerated individuals to take advantage of the aid program. 

Trump tried unsuccessfully to scale back Federal Work-Study in prior budget cycles. Congress added to the program this fiscal year, making its total budget $1.2 billion. The president’s overall request for the Education Department in 2021 is roughly $66.6 billion.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., laid into DeVos over Federal Work-Study, noting that 99% of its applicants have been denied since the program was expanded in 2018. She questioned why DeVos would want to eliminate the program. DeVos responded that the administration felt incentivizing one type of work over another “is not called for” and”philosophically doesn’t line up with where we are.”

Other Democrats joined Shaheen in criticizing DeVos. Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was particularly barbed in her comments, blasting DeVos’ proposed regulations on Title IX, the federal sex discrimination law.

Murray said the rules would discourage sexual assault survivors from coming forward to report these incidents. Likely in anticipation of these rules, the Ed Department is escalating its use of mediation to close sexual misconduct cases reported to its Office for Civil Rights, sources told Education Dive.

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