Appropriations, Infrastructure, and Reconciliation Action

This week, the Senate began committee work on Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) appropriations spending bills, following swift work that began in the House of Representatives in July. On August 4, Senate appropriators advanced the Military Construction-VA bill; approved the Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration bill; and approved the Energy-Water spending bill, all by votes of 25-5.

As reported in last week’s edition of Washington Insights & Highlights, on July 29, the House of Representatives passed a $600 billion, seven-bill appropriations package, including the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS-Education) appropriations bill. Among the $49.4 billion provided for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the spending bill invests $2 million in additional funding for the National Cancer Institute, for the purposes of enhancing pediatric cancer research, per an amendment put forward by Representative Susan Wild (D-PA). It also repositions funds by $1,000,000 in the NIH Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration account to emphasize the importance of SAMHSA focusing efforts to address COVID-linked substance abuse and mental health issues, per an amendment introduced by Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ). In addition, NIH funds would also reallocate $10,000,000 to support greater diversity in the pool of diabetes research professionals and patients participating in clinical trials, as directed in an amendment brought by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). The House Appropriations Committee published an amendment tracker for additional details on all amendments adopted in the final package.

On August 5, Senators held a cloture vote to proceed with passage of the House-passed surface transportation bill H.R.3684, which is expected to serve as the legislative vehicle for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The procedural vote follows a week of continued negotiations on the package in hopes of keeping pace with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer‘s (D-NY)  deadline to finalize both the bipartisan bill and a budget resolution needed to begin the  reconciliation process prior to the scheduled August recess. Of importance to graduate education and research, the infrastructure package would provide $65 billion for broadband, and the budget resolution would permit lawmakers to pass a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants through the reconciliation process.

USCIS Activity

On July 30, USCIS updated its notice on Optional Practical Training (OPT), announcing that pursuant to a court order, it has extended flexibilities for OPT and STEM OPT applicants affected by delayed receipt notices for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. For applicants who filed their Form I-765 in a timely manner, and whose applications were rejected, USCIS will accept a refile Form I-765 as filed on the original date if: the original Form I-765 application was received  on or after October 1, 2020, through October 31, 2021; and USCIS rejected it. Applicants can file Form I-765 up to 120 days before the program end date if the application is received by October 31, 2021.


On July 30, the Senate confirmed Ur Mendoza Jaddou as director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). She is the first female director, the first director of Arab and Mexican descent, and the first confirmed director of USCIS in two years. Jaddou has two decades of extensive experience with immigration policy and spent many years on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas’s statement on Jaddou’s confirmation is available here.


Following the July 16 court decision, which ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is unlawful, the Biden administration announced it will appeal the ruling, as reported by NPR. Additionally, in response, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services updated its DACA frequently asked questions webpage to include information pertaining to the court’s ruling. CGS continues to advocate for a legislative solution that, among many protections, would allow DACA recipients to more easily participate in graduate education (see CGS policy brief on DACA and Graduate Education). On August 4, CGS joined the higher education community on a letter urging Congress to enact permanent, legal protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

NIH Announces 2021-2025 Strategic Plan

On July 30, the National Institute of Health (NIH) published their 2021-2025 NIH-Wide Strategic Plan. The plan builds on the previous 2016-2020 plan, seeking to advance the vision for biomedical research direction, capacity, and stewardship. This new iteration of the NIH’s strategic plan includes a focus on five cross-cutting themes: minority health and health disparities; women’s health; public health challenges across the lifespan; collaborative science; and data science. The strategic plan was developed through a collaborative process involving leadership and staff across the NIH and informed by input from key stakeholders, including the research community, professional societies, advocacy groups, and the public, via a request for information. Amongst the initiatives and goals listed in the strategic plan, enhancing the biomedical behavioral research workforce, with a continued focus on exploring novel approaches to expand pathways for funding early-stage researchers, and assessing how current initiatives affect women and individuals who are underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral sciences are among the core themes. The NIH Strategic Plan, Framework, and Planning Process are available here.

Department of Education Activity

On August 2, the Department of Education posted the two notices relevant to graduate education in the Federal Register. The Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid has extended its comment period on the collection of information regarding the Federal Student Loan Program Internship/Residency and Loan Debt Forbearance forms. Of particular importance, the Department seeks comments that will help to assess the impact of its information collection requirements, including methods to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of information to be collected, and minimize the public’s reporting burden. Interested persons are invited to submit comments on or before September 1, 2021.


Second, the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education invites eligible institutions of higher education (IHEs) to apply for funds under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), Section 2003 of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for IHEs that meet the criteria for the Minority Serving Institutions Program. Funding is intended to address needs directly related to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and is intended to supplement previously distributed ARP grant funds. Eligible IHEs that did not receive funding under section 314(a)(2) of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 are included in the ARP allocation table are eligible for HEERF funding. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until October 1, 2021.


On August 3, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee continued consideration on the nomination of Catherine Lhamon for assistant education secretary for civil rights. The HELP Committee held up Lhamon’s nomination by an 11-11 vote along party lines. Movement on Lhamon’s nomination is still possible, if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) makes a motion to discharge her nomination. Following the motion, the Senate will have four hours of debate, before holding a vote on Lhamon’s confirmation.

Policymakers Discuss Student Loan Bankruptcy

On August 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on student loan bankruptcy reform. The hearing included five witnesses: Kwame Raoul, attorney general of Illinois; Elizabeth Gonzales, directing attorney of the Consumer Law Unit at the Public Law Center; Beth Akers, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; and Christopher Chapman, president and CEO of the AccessLex Institute. During the hearing Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the bipartisan FRESH START Through Bankruptcy Act, which would allow student loan borrowers to discharge federal student loans after a temporal waiting period of 10 years, retain the undue hardship option for loans less than 10 years, and create institutional accountability. To increase institutional accountability, policymakers included a provision that requires colleges and universities to partially refund the government if a student’s loans are later discharged in bankruptcy and the college has more than one-third of their student population receiving federal student loans.


The current rules for discharging student loans through bankruptcy include waiting periods which previously ranged five to seven years but was eliminated in 1998. Witnesses were in consensus that the term “undue hardship” needs further defining, as the current interpretation makes it “nearly impossible,” for students to qualify their loans as dischargeable under current bankruptcy regulations, Senator Durbin stated during the hearing. Graduate students often accrue student loans in their undergraduate career and either take on additional loans or hold their baccalaureate loans throughout their graduate career. Akers testified that graduate students may need an extended waiting period given their extended educational experience. However, the proposed FRESH START bill does not make mention of a graduate student extension. For more information on graduate student loans, CGS policy briefs How Graduate Students Finance Their Education and the Federal Financial Support for U.S. Graduate Students During COVID-19 are available as member resources.