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On December 9, House Republicans and Senate Democrats unveiled a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2015. Congress will vote on the legislation later this week, and leaders in both chambers expect it to pass. The measure, which sets overall funding for the federal government at the level established by last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA), would make small increases in funding to several workforce development programs.
The legislation comes after weeks of negotiations between leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees. The bill has been termed a “CRomnibus,” because funds the majority of government operations through the end of the fiscal year –as a typical omnibus spending bill does—while funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through February 2015. The decision to extend DHS funding through February is related to President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration.
Importantly, the CRomnibus partially reinstates the “ability-to-benefit” (AtB) provision of Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA). This provision allows students lacking a high school diploma or its equivalent to access federal financial aid if they are enrolled in an eligible career pathway program and can demonstrate college readiness. AtB was previously eliminated as part of the FY 2012 omnibus spending law as a cost-saving measure. The new measure retroactively applies to students who first enrolled in an eligible program of study on or after July 1, 2014, and allows those students to receive up to $5,730 in Pell grants, the maximum award. However, students who enroll in an eligible program on or after July 1, 2015 may only access up to $4,860 in Pell, the amount available through appropriations. The maximum Pell grant available to all other students in 2015 will be $5,830. National Skills Coalition strongly supports the ability-to-benefit provision as a means to improve the economic mobility of low-skilled adults and youth seeking postsecondary credentials to increase their jobs prospects.
Several other federal education and training programs received slight funding increases, or were funded at FY 2014 levels. One notable exception was the Workforce Data Quality Imitative, which saw one-third of its funding eliminated.
Department of Labor:
Department of Education:
The legislation also extends authorization for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for Workers program through 2015. Authorization for TAA lapsed on December 31, 2013 and the program has been operating under the 2002 amendments to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act for the past year. Had Congress not extended the program, it would have fully lapsed at the end of 2014.
While the CRomnibus does make important increases to several workforce development programs, funding for these programs remains below pre-sequestration levels.
The continuing resolution (CR) the government is currently operating under expires on December 11. Congress will likely pass another 2-3 day CR to allow the House and Senate time to vote on the CRomnibus. The House is expected to vote on December 11, and the Senate will likely vote over the weekend. National Skills Coalition will provide updates as they become available.