As things move quickly in Washington, DC, NACUBO is your constant advocate in action. NACUBO On Your Side covers important legislative and agency activity NACUBO staff are tracking, what we’re currently advocating for, and how you can take action with us.
Here are the issues we are tracking and advocating for this week.
On the Hill
Congress Creates Short-Term Budget Pass
Congress has punted temporarily on passing a FY21 federal budget, roughly two and a half months after the start of the fiscal year. While lawmakers from both parties agreed at the end of September to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at previous year levels until after the November elections, it was initially anticipated that Congress could complete its budget work by the December 11 CR end date. Following the election, members of Congress renewed negotiations on an additional package of COVID-19 pandemic relief and are now hoping to bundle the package with the FY21 federal budget. As a result, lawmakers have passed another short-term CR, set to expire on December 18, to give themselves a week of additional time to finalize details on the budget and pandemic relief packages.
Congress Passes Student Debt Relief Scam Legislation
Both the House and Senate have cleared legislation aimed at reducing “debt relief” scams enacted on student loan borrowers by creating federal criminal penalties for using another person’s account information to fraudulently access Education Department computer systems “for purposes of obtaining commercial advantage or private financial gain.” In addition to proposing hefty potential fines and prison time for violations, the bill requires the Department of Education to educate federal student loan borrowers about debt relief scams and to proactively warn borrowers about potentially suspicious activity on their accounts.
ED Announces Free Speech Hotline
The Department of Education has launched a “Free Speech” hotline, monitored by ED Office of General Counsel staff, which is intended to allow college and university students and faculty to file complaints of censorship on campus. The hotline stems from a March Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump that ostensibly is meant to penalize institutions for either violating their own institutional policies on free speech in the case of private schools, or for First Amendment violations by public schools. Many in the higher education community have raised concerns that the order is a violation of the General Education Provisions Act. It is anticipated that the incoming Biden administration will withdraw the Executive Order, dismantling the related ED regulations and the hotline.
ED Updates HEERF Page with Grant Program FAQs
The Department of Education has updated its primary CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) guidance page to include a series of “COVID-19 Flexibility FAQs.” While much of the guidance is a restatement of flexibilities issued earlier this summer, several new FAQs focus primarily on regulatory modifications for the TRIO and GEAR UP programs in light of the ongoing pandemic.
DHS Issues Spring 2021 International Student Guidance at Urging of Associations
Thirty-six higher education associations, including NACUBO, sent a letter to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Student and Exchange Visitor Program divisions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), requesting that they quickly issue new guidance for international students and their institutions for the Spring 2021 semester. The letter called for guidance that “allow[s] flexibility for existing students in the United States to attend hybrid or online programs of study,” and “allow[s] new international students to travel to the United States for [fully online] programs.” In response, DHS announced that it was extending its March pandemic guidance for the Spring 2021 semester. Under this guidance, international students who were already enrolled at a U.S. college or university as of March 9 can re-enter the U.S. for school even if their institution is fully remote, but new students are not permitted to enter the U.S. to take a fully online course load. New students are permitted to enter the U.S. to participate in hybrid online/in-person programs.
Higher Education Associations Request Greater FEMA Flexibility
NACUBO, in a group led by the American Council on Education, sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting that the agency issue new guidance clarifying that FEMA Public Assistance funding can be used by colleges and universities to support public health and safety work. The letter raises concerns about FEMA’s current temporary guidance for these funds, which restricts the type of pandemic supplies and situations for which schools can be reimbursed. The letter requests that new guidance be issued that “specifically make eligible for reimbursement costs incurred for PPE, cleaning supplies, testing expenses, and technology and labor costs associated with distance learning and remote work for institutions of higher education.”
NACUBO Supports Extending Charitable Giving Deduction
With a temporary $300 above-the-line deduction for charitable giving set to expire at the end of the year, the Charitable Giving Coalition, of which NACUBO is a member, wrote to Congressional leadership and asked that the deduction be extended through the end of 2021, at least. The group also suggested an increase of the $300 limit for individual filers to $600. The temporary above-the-line deduction was included in the CARES Act to encourage giving to charitable organizations.
Coalition Encourages 179D Extension
The Coalition for Energy Efficient Jobs and Investment recently wrote identical letters to leaders in the House and Senate to encourage their support for a long-term extension of the 179D energy efficient commercial buildings deduction. Without intervention, the deduction will expire at the end of the year. As a member of the Coalition for Energy Efficient Jobs and Investment, NACUBO has long advocated for long-term extension or permanence for the deduction.
NACUBO On Your Side: December 1-7, 2020