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A concern over funding for historically Black colleges and universities is emerging as another obstacle as Democrats push to secure support for their massive social spending package.
Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) is rallying her Congressional Black Caucus colleagues to join in opposing the bill unless it boosts spending for HBCUs, in part by changing how the funding is awarded.
Adams said in a Sunday letter to CBC members that she’s “deeply concerned that provisions related to that funding will inadvertently place HBCUs at a disadvantage.”
Adams’ push comes as Democratic lawmakers race to hammer out the details of the $3.5 trillion package before the end of the month while managing competing demands within the party. They’re aiming to pass the bill through a budgetary process known as reconciliation that would require only a simple majority in the Senate but also unified support from Democrats.
Democrats are divided on a number of provisions including state and local taxes and drug pricing provisions. Moderate members of the caucus have raised objections about the overall size of the package, making it more challenging to boost spending on individual priorities in the legislation.
Adams previously led a group of 17 lawmakers in the House and Senate calling on congressional leaders to allocate $40 billion to improve physical and research infrastructure on HBCU campuses. That’s roughly in-line with research funding President Joe Biden sought for black colleges and other minority-serving institutions in a March infrastructure plan. The House’s current proposal would allocate $2 billion for HBCU infrastructure, as well as needed repairs and improvements at other minority serving institutions.
The Sunday letter lacked an explicit call for more funding, but focused on two other requests: ensuring HBCU’s didn’t compete with other minority-serving colleges for funds and changing how the Education Department prioritizes schools.
Adams said if HBCUs have to compete with other minority serving institutions for funding, “it is accurate to say that HBCUs will only successfully compete for pennies on the dollar.”
She proposed dividing up the funding so a percentage is reserved for HBCUs and other sections are only for Hispanic colleges, Tribal colleges, and other minority-serving institutions.
Adams also wants to change a provision requiring the Education Department to prioritize schools which receive less than $10 million annually for federal research, which would hurt HBCU’s overall unless the bar was raised to $50 million, according to an Adams spokesman.
Despite her concerns, Adams acknowledged the larger reconciliation package included $20 billion in tuition assistance for students at HBCUs and other minority serving institutions and “will do a great deal of good for our schools and our students.”
“But,” she added. “I cannot in good conscience vote for legislation that I sincerely believe will not serve its intended purpose.”
Lodriguez Murray, vice president of public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, said HBCUs are in “lockstep” with Adams on her concerns over the legislation.
“If HBCUs are not treated properly in this bill, then when will we ever be treated properly?” he said.
The House Education and Labor Committee approved its portion of the reconciliation package earlier this month. Adams introduced and then withdrew an amendment in committee that would require funding to Black colleges and other minority-serving institutions to be distributed under the same formula used in the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136), which was opposed by Hispanic colleges.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, did not immediately comment on Adams’ promise to oppose the package without changes to HBCU funding.