On March 2, Miguel Cardona was sworn in as secretary of the Department of Education. Secretary Cardona’s confirmation came with bipartisan support, passing in the Senate on March 1 by a vote of 64-33. Cardona is known as a champion for students of color and individuals from low-income backgrounds. Throughout his confirmation hearings, he emphasized the importance of federal funding for education and voiced his support for the latest COVID-19 relief package, which would provide $170 billion for education overall.
Democratic lawmakers have already begun requesting Secretary Cardona seek to make regulatory changes within his purview. On March 2, Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) led a group of lawmakers in sending a letter to Secretary Cardona urging him to work with the Department of Justice to repeal the Title IX regulations installed by the Trump administration. The letter requests his immediate action to stay the regulations, effectively blocking them from being enforced. President Biden voiced his intent to overhaul the Trump era regulations in an executive order on his first day in office but did not detail how his administration would make the regulatory changes. Without a formal rulemaking process to override the current rules, a future administration could reverse new code without much bureaucratic entanglement. The Department of Education is currently reviewing the letter and is expected to respond to the lawmakers directly.
On February 25, the Biden administration announced additional appointees to the Department of Education. Notable to CGS and graduate education, the announcement includes key officials in the Office of Postsecondary Education; Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs; Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development; Office of the Secretary; Office of Communications and Outreach; among others. The full list is available here.
Senate Begins Action on Reconciliation Package
The legislation would provide $170 for education overall, with $40 billion allocated for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The Senate proposal also includes a new provision that would exclude any type of student loan forgiveness from taxable income over the next five years. Enhanced unemployment benefits, state and local aid, and stimulus checks are expected to be high priority provisions up for debate. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is expected to introduce an amendment to raise the minimum wage despite the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling that the provision would go against reconciliation rules in the upper chamber.
The Senate must pass their version of the package and send it back for approval in the House before President Biden receives the final legislation. Federal officials have a self-imposed deadline of March 14 for passage, the day when current funding for unemployment provisions expires. On March 2, CGS joined the higher education community on a letter urging the Senate to quickly pass the relief package to ensure vital funds reach students and institutions in a timely manner.
USCIS Issues Flexibilities for OPT Applicants
Dream and Promise Act Reintroduced in the House
In a press release, Representative Roybal-Allard notes that the Dream and Promise Act’s reintroduction is part of the strategic plan for more extensive immigration reform. On February 18, Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, a comprehensive immigration bill, which among other provisions, includes an increase in the number of H-1B visas for individuals who graduate from U.S. schools with a STEM degree. CGS continues to advocate for a legislative solution for Dreamers and looks forward to working with lawmakers on comprehensive immigration reform.
Temporary SNAP Guidance Applicable to Certain Graduate Students
On January 16, students in the categories described above and who meet all other financial and non-financial SNAP eligibility criteria became eligible to receive SNAP benefits. Under regular SNAP eligibility, students enrolled at least half-time at an institution of higher education are ineligible for SNAP benefits unless they meet certain specific exemptions. The temporary exemptions are slated to remain in effect until 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted. More information can be found on the SNAP benefits for students webpage.