Tax Cuts Paid for by Taxing Graduate Student Tuition Waivers

On Thursday, the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee released the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” Among many provisions that would affect higher education, the current draft of the bill would make tuition waivers for graduate students subject to income tax, increasing the tax liability of hundreds of thousands of graduate students.

Specifically, the bill amends Section 414(t)(2) of the tax code by striking section 117(d), which directs that “gross income shall not include any qualified tuition reduction.” In 117(d)(5), the current tax code specifically defines tuition waivers for graduate students engaged in teaching and research as “qualified tuition reductions,” and therefore not taxable.

This additional tax burden would cut into the modest stipends with which many graduate students already struggle to make ends meet.

The Ways and Means Committee is marking up the bill this week, with both Democratic and Republican committee members offering amendments. A few amendments have already been made. With Congress aiming to pass this bill by Thanksgiving, it is urgent to speak out now against this provision.

Click here to send urge Congress to oppose this provision.

Meet Acting NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with the new Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Jon Parrish Peede. Our conversation was the latest installment of NHA’s Between Two Bookshelves conference call series, which offers a brief, deep dive into Washington-based humanities policy for NHA members.

We covered a wide-range of topics during the call, including Peede’s formative experiences with two of his mentors: former NEH Chair Bill Ferris, under whom he studied at the University of Mississippi’s program in Southern Studies and former NEA Chair Dana Gioia, whom he met as a young editor at Mercer University Press. Ferris remained an important force in Peede’s career, pausing from his outreach to Members of Congress after his appointment as NEH Chair by President Clinton to help Peede get the job at Mercer. Gioia later invited Peede to join him as senior advisor and speech writer at the NEA. After serving under Chairman Gioia for more than six years, Peede was asked to remain at the agency by the Obama Administration’s transition team. He continued to serve the agency for two more years.

During the call, I asked Peede about formative humanities experiences and his vision for the role of the NEH and the humanities in our national life. Among many interesting answers, Peede talked about interviewing John Hope Franklin and Will Campbell. Peede also envisions the NEH as “a catalytic funder” that can help generate “institutional buy-in” and help to launch “new areas of the humanities.” He sees the humanities playing a central role in our national life: “We often live in a bifurcated society with those who are engaged in their communities and the world and those who are not, and humanities are a path toward that engagement.”

Click here to give a listen to the full interview.

Current State of Play for Humanities Funding

The FY 2018 appropriations process continues to wind on, with the House much farther ahead than the Senate in passing appropriations bills. Humanities advocates have taken action at several critical moments, urging Congress to allocate robust funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities and other humanities programs.  

House Passes Omnibus Spending Bill

This advocacy paid off on September 14, when the House passed an omnibus spending bill (H.R. 3354), which encompassed all 12 appropriations bills and almost completely rejected the President’s proposed defunding of humanities programs. Under Division A - the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, the National Endowment for the Humanities received $145 million in funding. While this is a nearly $5 million decrease from FY 2017 levels, it is fairly proportional to the reductions applied to other agencies to conform to the tight FY 2018 budget caps.  

Division F of the bill – the Department of Labor, Health, and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act - provided $231 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and $65 million for Title VI International Education Programs, which represented level funding for both. In the most significant loss for humanities funding - and despite a robust push from advocates - the bill did not include any funding for the Fulbright-Hays program.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission, meanwhile, was funded at the $4 million level under Division D – the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (representing a $2 million decrease), and the Library of Congress received $697 million under Division J, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act (representing a $6.9 million increase from FY 2017).

We were pleased to see these reasonable funding levels in the House bill overall, but were still very disappointed to see the Fulbright-Hays program left unfunded. Representative David Price did offer an amendment to restore the program’s $7 million in funding, but the Rules Committee did not allow the amendment to be considered on the floor. Fortunately, the Senate appropriations bill included level funding for Fulbright-Hays, and we will push to see this amount win out when the appropriations bills reach conference.

Senate Funding Bills

In general, the Senate funding bills have not made it to the Senate floor. The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 2018 (S. 1648) passed out of committee, funding the Library of Congress at $688 million. The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (S. 1771) passed out of committee with a modest increase for IMLS and level funding for Title VI as well as Fulbright-Hays. The Senate is expected to begin drafting the remaining appropriations bills, including the Interior and Environment bill under which the NEH is funded, in late September or early October. We will keep you updated on the Senate’s progress.

Click here for a full funding chart.

Next Steps

Regardless of what appropriations bills are passed, however, no new funding levels will take effect unless a budget resolution, which determines overall discretionary spending levels, is agreed to. Budget resolutions are generally passed in the spring, but the House Budget Committee did not refer a budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 71) for consideration on the House floor until July. This resolution, which has not yet been voted on, significantly raised spending caps through 2027, which will likely help to alleviate some of the pressure on House and Senate appropriators to cut spending to conform with the current low budget caps. If these new spending caps are passed, we might even see increases for humanities funding in FY 2018.

Nonetheless, we are not likely to see fast movement on either the budget resolution or appropriations bills, as Congress passed a continuing resolution (H.R. 601) on September 7, which extended current funding levels through December 8, 2017. This allowed Congress more time to pass a budget resolution and complete its appropriations work. If Congress does not accomplish these goals by December, we are likely to see another continuing resolution, funding the government at relatively similar levels to those of FY 2017.

Lin-Manuel Miranda on the Hill for the Humanities!

What a week! We spent Tuesday and Wednesday on the Hill with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who came to town to receive the US Capitol Historical Society’s Freedom Award and stayed to advocate for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Check out our Storify of all the events, meetings, tweets, and videos!

Tuesday evening started off with the US Capitol Historical Society’s award ceremony, which featured Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Representative John Lewis, and Donald Carlson, Chair of the USCHS Board of Trustees, recognizing Lin-Manuel for his tremendous work creating Hamilton: An American Musical and the Hamilton Education Program, which integrates Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Era into high school studies.

In his acceptance speech, Lin-Manuel noted “without humanities and arts programs, I wouldn’t be standing here today” and underscored the importance of ensuring that all youth, rural and urban, have similar access. “The fact is,” he noted, “that in places like Appalachia and California’s Central Valley and Native American reservations and the Mississippi Delta and vast swaths of the Great Plains, the private resources simply do not exist to provide kids with the kinds of programs that I was just lucky enough to grow up with. This is why the [NEH] and the [NEA] are so vital to our democracy. Without these resources, we are essentially telling these kids without access to the arts, ‘Your world is small. Don’t dream too big.’”

We then moved on to the “Congress and the Humanities Showcase,” which the National Humanities Alliance produced in conjunction with the USCHS. The Humanities Showcase recognized Congress for its ongoing support for the NEH and honored the creative and innovative work the NEH supports in serving K-12 students, veterans, tribal nations, and rural communities. A bi-partisan group of Congress members introduced projects from around the country and underscored the importance of the NEH. See more here.


Finally, Lin-Manuel dedicated the next day to traveling around the Capitol with us (while singing and snapping selfies) to make the case for the importance of broad access to the arts and humanities. He joined a bi-partisan group from the New York delegation and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which funds the NEH and NEA. He also thanked the chairs of the Senate Cultural Caucus, Congressional Humanities Caucus, and Congressional Arts Caucus. Check out pictures of these meetings, the one-on-ones, and hallway run-ins here.

We are extremely grateful to Lin-Manuel Miranda for joining us on the Hill, amplifying the messages our advocates have been sending for the past several months.

As always, follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date and visit our Take Action page for more ways to advocate.

Cuts to Fulbright-Hays Advance Out of Full Committee

Last Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee considered the funding bill put forward by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H). As noted in a previous post, this bill provided level funding for both IMLS (at $231 million) and the Department of Education’s Title VI international education programs (at $65 million), but eliminated the Fulbright-Hays program entirely.

In the days leading up to the full committee's consideration of the bill, the humanities community voiced its support for Fulbright-Hays and Title VI, sending over 10,000 letters to Congress.

During last Wednesday’s full committee proceedings, Representative David Price (D-NC) offered an amendment to restore funding for Fulbright-Hays. Like all other amendments offered that day, this one was voted down. Nonetheless, we were pleased to see that Representative Cole (R-OK), chairman of the Labor-H subcommittee, took the opportunity to recognize the importance of Fulbright-Hays, noting that he was a Fulbright scholar. He also expressed his willingness to work with Representative Price to restore its funding as the budget process moves forward.

In the end, the full committee approved the bill—with level funding for IMLS and Title VI and zero funding for Fulbright-Hays—and voted to refer it out of committee. The next step for this bill will be the House floor, where we would hope to see an amendment restoring funding, though it remains unclear when it will reach the floor. We are still awaiting Senate numbers for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays, along with all of our other priorities. Given that we are still in the early stages of the appropriations process, your voice can still have an impact. Please take action to let your Members of Congress know that you support funding for both Title VI and Fulbright-Hays.

NEH Funding Bill Clears Full Appropriations Committee

Late last night, the House Appropriations Committee endorsed the bill that the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies had approved on July 12. As we noted in an earlier post, this bill would provide $145 million each for the NEH and the NEA in FY 2018. While this is a $4.8 million reduction from the FY 2017 levels, we are pleased to see that the full Appropriations Committee followed the subcommittee’s lead in rejecting the president’s proposal to defund the Endowments.

The appropriations process is still in its early stages, and the NEH still faces hurdles in the House and the Senate. For more information on the bill and next steps in the appropriations process, see our post on the subcommittee’s draft. Visit our Take Action page to learn about the multiple ways you can support the NEH.

Wins and Losses in the Labor-H Draft Bill

Late last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-H) passed a funding bill, sending it on to the full committee for consideration. The full committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Wednesday, July 19th at 10am.

As it stands now, the draft bill includes some very positive news for humanities funding: IMLS would receive the same amount of funding as in FY 2017 ($231 million) despite the Trump Administration’s efforts to defund the agency. In addition, the bill provides level funding ($65 million) for the Department of Education’s Title VI international education programs. This is a win for the humanities community, given that the Trump Administration also proposed the elimination of these programs.

Unfortunately, following the president’s request, the bill proposes the elimination of the Fulbright-Hays program.

Title VI and Fulbright-Hays are Department of Education programs that work in tandem to support foreign language learning and international education. Fulbright-Hays ensures that students and teachers can acquire language and area expertise with on-the-ground experience overseas through two programs: Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad, which provides grants to colleges and universities to fund individual doctoral students to conduct research abroad, particularly in world regions not normally included in U.S. curricula; and Group Projects Abroad, which supports seminars, curriculum development, group research, and advanced intensive language programs for American teachers, students, and faculty abroad.

The House subcommittee’s failure to fund Fulbright-Hays is especially concerning because in recent years, we have counted on House support to offset the Senate’s efforts to defund these programs. During last year’s appropriation’s process, the Senate proposed just $2.2 million in funding for Fulbright-Hays, just enough for continuation grants and an effort to phase out the program. The House, meanwhile, proposed level funding at $7 million. In final negotiations for FY 2017, Congress ultimately agreed on the House’s number, ensuring the (temporary) continuation of Fulbright-Hays. 

Given the Senate’s recent history of proposed cuts and the new proposal in the House, it is crucial that Members of Congress hear from us now. It is not too late to encourage the House to change course and restore funding for Fulbright-Hays. The Senate, meanwhile, is just starting to roll out appropriations bills and there is time to influence their numbers.

Click here to take action!

Once you’ve taken action, please recruit more advocates! Check out our Title VI/Fulbright-Hays graphics and use them to spread the word on social media.

Interior Subcommittee Strongly Rejects Trump’s Efforts to Defund the NEH

Yesterday afternoon, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies approved a bill that would provide $145 million each for the NEH and the NEA in FY 2018. While this is a $4.8 million reduction from the FY 2017 levels, we read this number as the subcommittee’s strong rejection of the president’s proposal to defund the Endowments.

In comparison to this 3.2% funding cut for the NEH and the NEA, the Interior bill reduces spending as a whole by 2.6% from FY 2017 in order to adhere to the FY 2018 budget caps. This makes the reduction to the NEH and the NEA fairly proportional to the overall reductions. The Woodrow Wilson Center, meanwhile, would receive $10 million in funding, which is a $500,000 or 4.7% cut from FY 2017 levels. Other programs and agencies funded by the same bill are facing much more severe cuts; the EPA, for example, would see a 6.5% reduction.

We are grateful for the subcommittee’s support, but we remain concerned that an amendment reducing funding for the NEH could be proposed in the full committee markup. Should that happen, we will reach out to our advocates in appropriators’ districts asking them to call their Members of Congress. If the bill does make it to the House floor, we will issue a broader action alert asking all of our advocates to contact their Members of Congress and reaffirm their support for the NEH. In addition, we still await draft numbers from the Senate.

As the appropriations process continues, we will also continue to advocate that the proposed funding cut for the NEH not only be reversed, but that the NEH’s budget be increased to our requested amount of $155 million. Congress is currently operating under the confines of low budget caps for FY 2018. If those caps are renegotiated to accommodate the majority’s funding priorities, supporters of the NEH might be able to push through level funding or an increase in final legislation.

The appropriations process is still in its early stages and we will continue to issue updates when urgent action is needed. In the meantime, visit our Take Action page for multiple options for supporting the NEH. 

What the Administration Missed About Title VI and Fulbright-Hays

The Trump Administration’s budget request is nearly uniform in its attack on funding streams that support humanities research, teaching, and programming. The call to eliminate funding for the Department of Education’s International Education Programs (known as Title VI and Fulbright-Hays) is in some ways the most menacing because Congress has tended to be less supportive of these programs in recent years than many of our other priorities.

Title VI and Fulbright-Hays play an essential role in ensuring that students in the United States have the opportunity learn about the history, culture, and languages of all world regions. At a modest cost of just over $72 million per year, Title VI and Fulbright-Hays support:

  • Around 100 National Resource Centers across the country on world regions and languages
  • Stipends that enable students to study less commonly taught languages
  • Development of instructional materials for less commonly taught languages
  • Outreach to K-12 schools across the country, leading to the internationalization of K-12 curricula
  • The internationalization of business school curricula
  • Research grants for graduate students, scholars, and teachers to travel abroad to conduct cutting-edge research and deepen their language expertise.

Despite the importance of ensuring that U.S. citizens have the capacity to engage productively across international borders, the President’s budget request called for the defunding of these programs.

The administration’s ostensible reason for these cuts came in the Department of Education’s Congressional Budget Justification, which was released shortly after the president’s budget. As is the case for the NEH, the Department of Education’s Congressional Budget Justification provides Congress with the rationale for the administration’s various funding requests. These documents, while originating from agencies and departments, must reflect administration priorities.

The Budget Justification recognizes “the critical need for our Nation to have a readily available pool of international area and advanced language experts for economic, foreign affairs, and national security purposes.” Nonetheless, it contends that it is unclear whether this goal is consistent with the Department’s “core mission.” In addition, the justification claims that achieving this goal would be better accomplished by an agency whose primary mission is U.S. national security.

Despite the brief nod to multiple uses for international and foreign language expertise, the assertion that these programs would be better suited to a national security agency fails to recognize how widespread our need for such expertise actually is.

Success in the international marketplace is dependent on employees who understand foreign languages, markets, cultures, politics, laws, and societies. Further, we confront a variety of challenges that are global in nature: from pandemics to food security and threats to communications, transportation, and financial systems.

Title VI and Fulbright-Hays ensure that students who ultimately pursue science, agriculture, medicine, nursing, engineering, law, cyber security, aviation administration, and many other fields have international, cultural, and language skills. A solely military-focused program would not be well-positioned to address the full range of challenges to U.S. interests abroad and ensure American success in the 21st century.

Even if we accept the premise that these programs would be better implemented by a national-security focused department or agency, the administration does not actually propose moving the programs to another department consistent with that aim. Rather, they propose simply eliminating the programs without replacement, which would damage goals that they themselves acknowledge in their budget request to be “critical” for “economic, foreign affairs, and national security purposes.”


The Congressional Landscape

Congress will now begin an appropriations process to determine the level of funding for all discretionary programs, including Title VI and Fulbright-Hays. It is under no obligation to adopt the administration’s request. That said, Senate appropriators have shown uneven support for these programs in recent years. Last summer, the Senate Committee on Appropriations, following the lead of the Obama Administration, proposed level funding for Title VI but a major cut to Fulbright-Hays, which would have prevented the funding of any new grants. The House, meanwhile, proposed level funding for both programs. When Congress finally passed an omnibus spending package for FY 2017, Title VI and Fulbright-Hays received level funding, in keeping with the House numbers. Given this precarious support, it is crucial that Members of Congress continue to hear from their constituents about these programs.


What You Can Do

You can write or call your Members of Congress, here, with just a couple of clicks to urge them to fully fund Title VI and Fulbright-Hays. It just takes 30 seconds!

Want to do more? Check out our Take Action page for more ways to advocate.

And spread the word. We have developed Social Media graphics that will help you recruit more advocates for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays. Check out our Advocacy Resources page to find them.

How to Make Sense of NEH's Budget Request

In the past day, several humanities advocates have expressed concern about language in the Congressional Budget Justification that the National Endowment for the Humanities released on May 23. This document requests $42.307 million for FY 2018 and justifies the request as the amount needed for the “orderly closure of the agency.” It also notes that “no new grants or matching offers will be made beginning in FY 2018.”

Given the alarming nature of this language, we want to explain the role that Congressional Budget Justifications play in the budget process. We also want to emphasize that this language is not, independent of the Presidential Budget Request, cause for concern.


Congressional Budget Justifications

Congressional Budget Justifications are documents submitted by federal agencies to Congress in the wake of a Presidential Budget Request. These requests are required to explain why the administration requested the specific amount it did and how the agency intends to use that funding.

Most importantly, these statements must reflect the administration's policy.

They are often pre-approved by the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President to ensure they conform to the Presidential Budget Request.


NEH’s Budget Justification and Its Impact on Future Grant Competitions

Given that the budget justification must follow through on the administration’s call to shut down the Endowment, the document must also state that the NEH will not make grants for FY18.  

It is essential to remember, however, that this will be the case only if Congress adopts the president’s request. If Congress, instead, provides enough funding for the NEH to award grants next year, the NEH will do so.


What this Means for Current Grant Programs 

The NEH will continue to run competitions for all of the grant programs posted on their website. You can review them here and are encouraged to apply!


What We Can Do

Given the president’s request, the NEH is constrained from asking for any additional funding. This makes it all the more critical that we step up and make our voices heard so that Congress understands the value of the agency. You can see all the ways that you, as well as your organization, colleagues, and friends can advocate for the NEH here. Just have 30 seconds? Contact Congress with only two clicks here!