Senate passes bill to permanently fund historically black colleges and universities

The Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, as lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving recess. The House impeachment report on President Donald Trump will be unveiled Monday behind closed doors as Democrats push ahead with the inquiry despite the White House's declaration it will not participate in the first Judiciary Committee hearing. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Senate passed a bill Thursday by unanimous consent to permanently fund historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. Federal funding had expired on October 1.

In early November, 38 senators had sent an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, urging them to allow immediate consideration of the legislation. The House initially passed the measure last month, the letter says, and it notes that the funding “is a lifeline for these institutions to strengthen their academic, administrative, and fiscal capacities.”

The bipartisan bill known as the FUTURE Act (Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education) strives to strengthen HBCUs as well as other minority-serving institutions by providing $255 million annually. The amended bill now heads to the House for another vote, according to Senate Education Chairman Lamar Alexander.

Alexander’s website indicates that the bill funds itself by saving taxpayers $2.8 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The measure makes the federal student aid application process — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — easier by eliminating up to 22 questions and the process that had required some students to verify IRS documentation with the Department of Education in order for aid to be released.

Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said in a statement, “It’s hard to think of a piece of legislation that would have more of a lasting impact on minority students and their families than this bill. First, it provides permanent funding for HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions attended by over 2 million minority students. Second, it takes a big first step in simplifying the FAFSA for 20 million American families, including 8 million minority students, and eliminating the bureaucratic nightmare created by requiring students to give the federal government the same information twice.”

The bill will also streamline student loan repayment by eliminating annual paperwork for some 7.7 million federal student loan borrowers on an income-driven plan, which allows them to make payments based on their incomes.

Ivanka Trump tweeted, “Congrats to the Senate on taking this huge step forward. The @WhiteHouse stands ready to sign into law!”

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