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Media Domino: A Blog About Student Debt House Policymakers Are Trying to Sneak the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act Across the Finish Line… Again

House Policymakers Are Trying to Sneak the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act Across the Finish Line… Again

By Aissa Canchola Bañez | June 10, 2024

Earlier this year, we sounded the alarms on an effort by House Education and Workforce Committee leaders to fast-track consideration of their Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act on the House floor. Thankfully, due to a groundswell of opposition from labor, student, consumer protection groups and higher education institutions, the bill was pulled from the legislative calendar. Now, House policymakers are at it again. This time they are trying to sneak their bill in as an amendment to H.R. 8070The Servicemember Quality of Life Improvement and National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This is annual must-pass legislation that oversees national defense and military policy. 

You may be asking the same question we arehow does this bill relate to our national security, defense, and military readiness? It doesn’t. 

In fact, trying to sneak an unrelated amendment to the Higher Education Act through the NDAA is a clear violation of the rules, which stipulate that amendments must be relevant (or “germane”) to the bill’s primary focus—national defense. Once again, policymakers are trying to undermine the legislative process and keep their constituents in the dark by trying to sneak this bill out of the House as one of over 1,000 amendments submitted to the NDAA. 

Proponents argue that the amendment will “equip students with the necessary skills to be prepared for work in high-demand fields that are aiding our national security and global competitiveness.” However, the opposite has been found to be true. Experts have warned that these programs leave students with low-quality training and earning poverty wages—particularly women and people of color. To make matters worse, the bill would open the Pell Grant program to low-quality, extra-short programs at the very for-profit institutions that have a longstanding history of using abusive and predatory practices to target our nation’s servicemembers, veterans, and military families. 

House lawmakers are shamefully using the annual NDAA to move policy that will leave students, particularly servicemembers, veterans, and military families at risk.

Allowing Pell Grant funds to flow to extra-short programs at for-profits and entirely online programs offered by private-sector tech companies is bad news for students – particularly those with a military background. For-profit colleges have a long history of exploiting veterans and servicemembers, dating back to the earliest days of education financing through the original GI Bill. These institutions repeatedly used aggressive recruiting tactics, misleading claims about job placement rates, and poor-quality programs that leave students with worthless degrees and significant debt. Many veterans have been lured into enrolling in these low-quality programs, only to find themselves saddled with debt and no viable career prospects. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have repeatedly documented these abuses, highlighting the need for stricter oversight and regulation to protect veterans. More recently, we have seen many private-sector tech companies—like online program managers (OPMs)—borrow from this same shady playbook.

According to the most recent data available, approximately 40 percent of veterans already benefit from the Pell Grant program. If Congress opens the Pell floodgates, for-profit colleges and OPMs will be quick to cash in on this new revenue stream. 

The amendment would undercut the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the Biden Administration’s efforts to make monthly student loan payments more affordable to millions of borrowers.

The amendment includes the controversial provision that claims to “pay-for” the costs of the bill. This provision would require ultra-wealthy universities that are subject to the endowment tax to “reimburse” the federal government for unpaid student loan balances, including unpaid interest and balances cancelled under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. When this “pay-for” provision was originally unveiled, we cautioned policymakers that students could pay the price as institutions could be financially incentivized to wind down service-oriented programs that funnel students into public service careers—like social work, education, and nursing programs—in order to avoid these financial penalties. Just as President Biden is making critical progress toward fulfilling the promise of the PSLF program, Congress’s work to force the Bipartisan Short Term Pell Act across the finish line could undercut these goals and ultimately reduce the number of graduates looking to enter the public service fields and serve high-need communities.  

Further, the amendment will undermine the Biden Administration’s work to fix the broken student loan repayment system, address runaway interest, and ensure that borrowers are able to access their right to an affordable monthly payment through its new SAVE plan. Because schools will be penalized if students use programs like IDR and PSLF, this amendment could disincentivize institutions from working to ensure that students receive adequate loan counseling and other information necessary to understand and access their rights to these critical programs. Additionally, the amendment could push schools away from recruiting and admitting low-to-middle-income students who may need to borrow federal student loans altogether, since those students would pose a financial risk to the schools.

Policymakers need to “abort mission” and stop trying to sneak the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act across the finish line. It is bad policy and a bad deal for our most vulnerable students.


Aissa Canchola Bañez is Policy Director at the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC). She brings a decade of experience in Congress, Executive Agencies and advocacy working to advance policy solutions to improve the lives of workers and families and create a more just and equitable society. Prior to joining the SBPC, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) where she led the Congresswoman’s policy work, including efforts to protect borrowers and make student loan debt cancellation a reality. 

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