Democratic lawmakers say the federal spending bill has perks for college students

CT file photo.

Democratic Virginia senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are praising the omnibus federal spending bill, which passed March 23. In a joint press release, the senators touted several measures in the bill which make strides toward improving Virginia state universities.

According to the statement, schools across the country should expect: $1.1 billion investment in Title IV mental health and STEM programs, $279.6 million for historically black colleges and universities, $75 million toward increased security training of local police and school personnel; and an improved federal loan forgiveness program that would relieve people like teachers, military servicemen, and public servants of debt.

“There is probably not one Virginian who is not going to benefit from this omnibus bill in some way, shape or form,” said Ravi Perry, chair of VCU’s political science department.

Perry said he was surprised the bill, which includes many key items supported by the minority party, passed the Congress.

“There’s a lot in this bill that Democrats like,” Perry said. “It’s very rare that this happens under a Republican legislature and a Republican president because they are part of a party that has a philosophy of limited government spending.”

A member from the VCU chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he has cynical feelings towards the two major parties working together to bring these promises to fruition.

“Reaching across the aisle to throw billions of dollars away is a waste of time,” he said. “In terms of damage control, yeah it’s useful to work with the Republican party. But in regards to actually passing legislation that will have a material benefit, bipartisanship is proven to not work historically.”

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said the bill’s passage is a good first step. While increased HBCU funding, improvements in mental health programs and the loan forgiveness program are positive, Wilder said, it takes more than money to improve these institutions.

“The bottom line is the cost of education has skyrocketed out of proportion to the delivery of service and that has to be addressed,” Wilder said. “The cost of college itself is too expensive. It doesn’t make any sense.The responsibility of the schools is to deliver education, not bureaucracy.”

The YDSA member echoed Wilder’s comment, saying money is not the government’s only obligation to their constituents and called for more transparency in federally-funded programs.

“Throwing money at something is not going to solve the problem,” the YDSA member said. “If you don’t have the infrastructure and people to actually implement programs effectively, then they’re going to fall flat.”

Perry said he hopes students will not be daunted by the intricacies of politics and make an effort to be well-informed citizens.

“In any large bureaucracy like the American government, you’re going to have a lot of moving parts and it is hard to keep track,” Perry said. “You can’t necessarily blame politicians or the system for government inefficiency all the time because it’s up to government bureaucrats — which are regular, everyday American citizens — to actually execute these activities.”

The omnibus spending bill — passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by president Trump in less than 48 hours — came as a reprieve to what would have been the third government shutdown of 2018. The latest plan also did not include provisions for former DACA recipients, which was the driving force behind the first shutdown in January.

The spending plan will remain effective until Sept. 30.


Correction: April 5, 2018
An earlier version of this article stated the legislation would add funding for the following in Virginia schools: Title IV mental health and stem programs, HBCU’s, local police and school security personnel and increased federal loan forgiveness. Funding for all those items would be for schools across the country. 

Nia Tariq, Staff Writer

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