On March 31, President Biden unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure package intended to assist the United States in recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal, named the American Jobs Plan, includes $100 billion to expand broadband services; $50 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF); and $40 billion to update university and federal research labs, including brick-and-mortar facilities and computing capabilities and networks. Half of these funds would be reserved for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).
The proposal seeks to expand broadband coverage to 100 percent and invest in “future-proof” infrastructure. The White House plans to create jobs by supporting short-term subsidy programs affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives. In the 2021-2022 Federal Policy Agenda, CGS identified that expanding access to broadband would allow students and faculty to successfully participate in remote instruction, one mechanism to promote graduate student success and wellbeing.
If approved by Congress, the plan would span more than eight years and would mark a reversal of the United States’ decline in spending on science, research, and technology. The NSF funding would create a technology directorate that would “focus on fields like semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology, advanced energy technologies, and biotechnology” according to the White House fact sheet. The proposal also calls on Congress to invest $15 billion in creating up to 200 “research incubators at HBCUs and other MSIs to provide graduate fellowships and other opportunities for underserved populations.” CGS has been active in advocating for an increase in research and technology investments, citing impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, CGS has endorsed the RISE Act (H.R.869/S.289), which calls for roughly $25 billion in supplemental support for research.
DACA Uncertainty Continues
In the March 30 hearing, Judge Hanen questioned how the case could be affected by the recent passage of H.R. 6, which creates a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and whether there could be an option to send the program back to DHS to be revised. Lawyers defending DACA urged the judge to hold off ruling on the program’s legality, citing the current movement in Congress and DHS, while attorneys for the state of Texas, which is leading the state-backed challenge to DACA, urged the judge to immediately vacate the program before DHS could issue a replacement through formal rulemaking. The judge invited both sides to file additional briefs by April 9 on how the case should proceed.
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Department of Education Expands Student Loan Relief for Borrowers with Private Loans and Disabilities
On March 29, the Department of Education temporarily suspended the requirement that borrowers with severe disabilities provide income documentation to have their loans discharged. Under previous law, borrowers who become severely disabled were required to prove that their income remained below a poverty threshold for a three-year period to have their loan fully discharged. This flexibility will extend through the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a press release, the Department of Education had reinstated roughly $1.3 billion in loans for borrowers with severe disabilities who had their debt conditionally discharged but then failed to submit the required paperwork during the three-year monitoring period. The department said it would now permanently erase those debts and expand these flexibilities to include borrowers currently in the monitoring period.