Washington Insights & Highlights Sept. 12

By Eriech Tapia

118th Congress Works to Avert a Government Shutdown

After a long August recess, the 118th Congress has returned to Washington, D.C. and the first order of business is to avert a federal government shutdown. Time is running short before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2023. In the House of Representatives, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has expressed interest in passing a short-term continuing resolution (CR), so Congress has time to work on a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on all 12 appropriations bills. However, Speaker McCarthy’s plans for a short-term CR is being challenged by some in the republican caucus. As mentioned in previous Washington Insights and Highlights Newsletters, the House of Representatives wrote their fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills below the spending levels agreed upon in the Debt Ceiling agreement that was negotiated by President Joe Biden and Speaker McCarthy.

In the Senate, Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) are planning on moving all 12 appropriations bills to the Senate floor in the coming weeks. This week the Senate will consider FY2024 Military-Construction-VA, Agriculture, and State-Foreign Operations Appropriations legislation. At this time, it is uncertain when the full Senate will consider the FY2024 Labor-Health and Human Services- and Education appropriations bill, which includes funding for higher education.

Read More

Education: The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill that recommends $79.6 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of Education. The committee-passed bill includes $3.5 billion for higher education programs. Specifically, the bill recommends the following appropriations: $231.5 million for Hispanic Serving Institutions; $402.5 million for Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities; $102 million for Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions; $20 million for Strengthening Master’s Degree Programs at HBCUs; $85.6 million for International Education and Foreign Language Studies programs; $23.5 million for the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program; and $80 million for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program.

NIH: The Senate Appropriations Committee recommends $49.2 billion in funding the National Institutes of Health. It is notable that more than 80 percent of NIH’s budget is awarded to extramural grants each fiscal year, which funds more than 58,000 meritorious grants at 2,700 academic universities, hospitals, and other organizations.


Student Loans Payments Restart as SAVE Plan is Rolled Out

As student loan repayments are set to resume on October 1, 2023, more than 4 million student loan borrowers have enrolled in the Biden Administration’s Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan. The plan is designed to lower the monthly bills for student loan repayments.

Read More

According to a recent U.S. Department of Education press release, “a single borrower who makes less than $15 an hour will not have to make any payments, and borrowers earning above that amount would save more than $1,000 a year on their payments compared to other Income Driven Repayment plans. The SAVE plan also ensures that borrowers never see their balance grow due to unpaid interest as long as they keep up with their required payments.”

Borrowers interested in signing-up for the new SAVE plan can do so here on the Federal Student Aid (FASA) website. Borrowers are encouraged to join FSA for their “Repayment 101” webinar on September 14, 2023 at 7 p.m. EST.


Department of Education: Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on Student Debt Relief

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on Student Debt Relief. The Department is soliciting nominations for negotiators to participate in public sessions this Fall. The committee is scheduled to meet for three virtual sessions beginning on October 10, 2023. The Department is seeking representation from the higher education community that has experience with student loans and postsecondary education. Once the work of the committee is completed, the Department will publish proposed rules for public comment.

The Department will provide updated information on this negotiated rulemaking committee on an ongoing basis here.


Department of Labor Issues Overtime Rule

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued proposed changes to overtime rules for U.S. employees that will have a significant impact on colleges and universities. While DOL has yet to publish the official notice of proposed rulemaking, it is proposing the following significant changes:

Read More
  • DOL proposes raising the standard salary threshold from its current level of $35,568 annually to $55,068 annually, which is a 55-percent increase for salaried employees.
  • DOL proposes raising the salary level for the Highly Compensated Exemption from the current level of $107,432 to $143,988.
  • DOL proposes automatically updating the salary threshold every three years by tying the threshold to the 35th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried employees.

It is important to note that salaried employees who currently make more than $35,568 annually are exempt from receiving overtime pay for more than 40 hours of work. This proposed rule change would raise the exemption to $55,068 and expand overtime eligibility for millions of U.S. workers across all sectors.

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) is hosting a webinar on the proposed changes to the overtime rule on Thursday, September 21, 2023, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. More information about the webinar can be found here.

CGS members are encouraged to discuss this issue with your university’s Human Resource Office.


Bipartisan Effort to Address Visa Processing Delays

Recently, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced the Visa Processing Improvement Act. This legislation is designed to address the visa processing delays which are impacting international students, visitors, and temporary workers. The bipartisan bill could help reduce the average wait time of one year for a consulate visa appointment. The bill includes a pilot program that would allow videoconferencing as an alternative to in-person interviews for certain applicants from countries. The bill would also require that the State Department establish specific targets for wait times when applying for visas.

For more information about this bill, please read Senator Klobuchar’s press release.


Accepting Application for the Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Awards

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science is accepting applications for the Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program for the 2023 Solicitation 2 cycle. Applications are due on November 8, 2023, at 5 p.m. ET.

SCGSR assistance workshops will be held virtually on Thursday, September 14, 2023, from 2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. ET and Tuesday, October 10, 2023, from 2 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

The SCGSR program provides supplemental awards to outstanding U.S. graduate students to conduct part of their graduate thesis research at a DOE national laboratory or facility in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist — with the goal of preparing graduate students for scientific and technical careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission. The research opportunity is expected to advance the graduate students’ overall graduate thesis while providing access to the expertise, resources, and capabilities available at the host DOE laboratories. SCGSR is open to current Ph.D. students in qualified graduate programs at accredited U.S. academic institutions who are conducting their graduate thesis research in targeted areas of importance to the DOE Office of Science.

More information about the application process and assistance workshops can be found on the DOE-Office of Science website.