Despite issuing a veto threat on Twitter, President Donald Trump approved an omnibus federal spending package on March 23 that includes robust funding for student programs and research budgets across the federal government. The veto threat was largely because of the president’s dissatisfaction with the level of funding approved for a border wall; Congress approved $1.6 billion, just a fraction of the $25 billion requested.
Immigration policy will continue to be hotly debated in Washington as the legislation, seen as one of few must-pass bills that will move this year, did not include any protection for so-called “Dreamers” seeking protection from deportation. The legislation included no action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and the fate of the program will likely be decided in the courts.
The final appropriations agreement includes:
Department of Education
- $22.475 billion for the Pell Grant Program, increasing the maximum Pell Grant award by $175 to $6,095. The maximum award increase comes from the program’s surplus; appropriators did not approve any new funding.
- The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Federal Work-Study, and TRIO programs were all increased over FY17 levels.
- The Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program was cut by $5 million from FY2017’s level.
- Fixing a data-sharing problem raised by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the legislation included language that allows, with a student’s authorization, financial aid offices to release FAFSA information to outside entities that need it in order to make financial aid awards. Disclosure of FAFSA data for other purposes remains prohibited.
- The legislation also modifies the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, qualifying student loan borrowers for PSLF if they were enrolled in a previously ineligible repayment plan.
- The FY18 agreement includes level-funding for the ENERGY STAR® program. Trump had called for the elimination of the program, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce energy consumption in both residential and commercial structures by having products and buildings evaluated, approved, and certified by an independent third party.
- The FY18 appropriations agreement included very good news for science as numerous research agencies across the federal government received boosts in funding. Further, despite a request from the Trump administration to cut National Institutes of Health (NIH) overhead payments, the bill explicitly prohibits changes to negotiated facilities and administrative (F&A) indirect cost rates.
- At the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative received a $25 million increase from FY17.
- The Department of Defense, Science & Technology budget will see a 6.1 percent increase.
- The Department of Energy Office of Science budget will be raised by $868 million to $5.39 billion and the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) will receive $47 million more than the FY17 level of $306 million.
- NIH will be funded at $37.084 billion, a $3 billion increase over the previous year.
- The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will receive $153 million, a $3 million increase from FY17.
- The National Science Foundation (NSF) will see an increase of $295 million and will be funded at a level of $7.767 billion.