• April 21, 2014

Senate Appropriators Call for Modest Increases in NIH and Pell Grants

Federal spending on the National Institutes of Health would increase by $307-million and the maximum Pell Grant would rise by $140, to $5,785, under an appropriations bill for the 2014 fiscal year that was approved by a Senate panel on Tuesday.

The measure, which will be taken up by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday, would increase spending on Federal Work-Study by $50-million and on the TRIO and Gear Up college-preparatory programs by $11.7-million and $5-million, respectively. Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants would receive the same level of funds as in the 2013 budget, under a calculation that, like others in the bill, was based on pre-sequester amounts—before across-the-board spending cuts took effect in March.

National programs for career, technical, and adult education would see a modest combined increase of $8-million under the bill, which covers the fiscal year that begins on October 1.

The bill would provide $400-million for President Obama's proposed Race to the Top competition for colleges and $22-million for dual-enrollment programs, roughly half of the president's request. It contains no money for Mr. Obama's proposed First in the World innovation competition for nonprofit organizations and colleges, and it would not expand and remake the Perkins Loan program, as the president had requested.

The bill would set aside $2.75-million of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to study distance education and $1-million to study regulations affecting colleges.

Over all, the bill would be slightly less generous to research and student aid than President Obama's budget, which would provide $31.3-billion for the National Institutes of Health (compared with the bill's $30.955-billion), increase the Perkins Loan program from $1-billion to $8.5-billion, and give a $150-million increase for Work-Study (but no increase for TRIO and Gear Up).

Still, the legislation is much more generous than the equivalent bill in the House of Representatives is likely to be, given that chamber's budget blueprint. The House set aside $121.8-billion for labor, health, and education programs, almost 26 percent less than the Senate did. If that difference were applied evenly, the National Institutes of Health would get $8-billion less under the House bill than in the Senate's version.

If House members spared certain programs, they would have to cut more deeply elsewhere. Either way, reconciling the competing measures will be difficult.

During Tuesday's session, the Appropriations Committee's chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, vowed to bring the education-spending bill to the floor for the first time since 2007. In every year since then, the bill has been wrapped into an "omnibus" spending measure containing several other bills.

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