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  • Writer's pictureAlex Nelson

HBCUs could receive over $2 billion through bipartisan effort led by Alabama Senator

Outgoing Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, is hoping to boost the nation's 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including Alabama's 14, and increase educational opportunities for Americans with his contribution to the recently passed 2021 spending bill. Jones’ legislative contribution, a joint effort involving Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, forgives capital financing loans for HBCUs, simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and restores access to Pell Grant funding for incarcerated individuals.

The bipartisan legislation comes on the heels of last year’s FUTURE Act, also sponsored by Jones. The FUTURE Act of 2019 permanently renewed $255 million in annual funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs). The bill also authorized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to complete, on behalf of applicants, the FAFSA's 22 questions regarding income taxes, which paved the way for Jones’ new bill to provide loan relief for HBCUs as well as make additional changes to the FAFSA.

This year’s legislation, part of the proposed $2.3 trillion federal omnibus spending bill, further simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), reducing the application from 108 questions to a maximum of 36 questions. Additionally, the legislation provides for the forgiveness of over $1 billion in HBCU capital financing loans while adding $1.7 billion in funding for HBCUs.

Other provisions in the bill will allow an additional 555,000 students to qualify for Pell Grants annually. The legislation also proposes changes that will increase the number of students who qualify for the maximum Pell Grant award by 1.7 million. Another of the bill’s significant changes to existing policy is its elimination of the 26-year ban on Pell Grants access for incarcerated individuals.

“The progress that this legislation represents for under-served and low-income students cannot be overstated,” said Jones. “From day one, I have been working with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to make a positive, meaningful impact for students and colleges in Alabama and across the country. Simplifying the burdensome FAFSA is a substantial step to make college more affordable and accessible. Further, I am thrilled that we could work together to find a way to forgive the debt many of our HBCUs carry. Even before this pandemic, HBCUs were already consistently under-resourced while providing quality education to many first-generation students.”

Jones, reportedly one of President-Elect Biden’s top contenders for Attorney General, is only weeks away from the conclusion of his Senate term. With this legislation as one of his last major victories as a Senator, the Alabama lawmaker's bill could have a significant impact on higher education since its provisions increase student access to federal education funding and support the fiscal health of HBCUs. Despite its potential impact, Jones' across the aisle effort with Senators Alexander and Scott may never become law by virtue of the legislation’s inclusion in the federal government’s 2021 spending package.

Although the 2021 spending bill has been passed by both houses of Congress, President Trump has already signaled his displeasure with the $2.3 trillion funding package, threatening that he may not sign the bill unless there is an increase in the proposed $600 in COVID relief for Americans.

"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 (direct payment) to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple," said Trump in a recent video posted to Twitter.

"I'm also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package...and maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done," Trump concluded.

President Trump's response to the proposed spending bill may ultimately determine whether American students will reap the benefits of Senator Jones’ bipartisan effort to make significant change to federal education policy.

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