Federal lawmakers appear to have renewed talks over a new coronavirus aid bill and introduced another round of proposals that would provide billions of dollars in education relief funding.
These legislative plans are relatively bare-bones, however. One, from a bipartisan collection of moderate senators, would offer $82 billion for education but doesn't detail how much would go to colleges.
The U.S. has not seen a comprehensive relief package since March, putting more financial pressure on already-cash-strapped institutions.
President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, which dedicated about $14 billion to postsecondary education. The bulk of this funding was divided evenly into two pots: one for colleges to defray their pandemic-related expenses, and another for emergency grants for students.
Since then, however, lawmakers have been unable to come to a consensus on more aid. House Democrats pushed a sweeping $2.2 trillion bill, dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which set aside $39 billion for the sector. Republicans wrote it off as overreaching.
One of the new proposals, released Tuesday by a group of centrist legislators including Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, totals $908 billion and was meant to revive negotiations. Details are scant, but a funding breakdown shows the legislation devotes $4 billion to student loan relief.
Republican Senate leaders, meanwhile, are circulating their own plan, which calls for $105 billion for an "Education Stabilization Fund." It also grants legal liability protections for colleges, a measure favored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell but that has garnered skepticism from the chamber's progessive wing.
The American Council on Education, higher education's top lobbying group, has told lawmakers that postsecondary education needs at least $120 billion to address the pandemic's financial fallout. It reiterated this request in a letter to Congressional leaders Wednesday, outlining the myriad new costs and likely budget cuts resulting from the virus.
ACE had no immediate comment on the $908 billion plan, but its president, Ted Mitchell, in the letter called the situation "a crisis of almost unimaginable magnitude" for colleges.
It "is unsustainable for an extended period and at this point there are simply no other sufficient options for institutions beyond meaningful federal assistance," Mitchell wrote in the letter, which was signed by more than 100 other education groups