Finance

House Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid

Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) has threatened not to back her party's forthcoming $3.5 trillion social spending plan unless the package includes more federal aid for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

"We can't build back better unless we build our HBCUs back better. Promises made must be promises kept," Adams told Punchbowl News, which was first to break the news on Friday.

A Democratic source familiar with the congresswoman's plans also confirmed the report to The Hill.

The move by Adams comes as Democrats have gotten heat from some who say the massive spending plan the party is working to craft fails to meet the moment for HBCU funding.

One of the provisions in the plan Adams has taken issue with is a portion of the bill pertaining to research and development grants for HBCUs and minority serving institutions (MSIs), the source said. That section would reserve $2 billion toward those purposes, which the source noted is significantly less than the billions more previously proposed by President Biden. 

A few weeks ago, Adams, a staunch advocate for HBCUs, and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) wrote to the heads of the House and Senate education committees to push for $40 billion in funding to improve physical and research structure at HBCUs and MSIs - a request the aide said was denied.

At the time, the pair, both graduates of HBCUs, pointed to the systemic barriers the institutions have faced when it comes to making infrastructure investments and receiving federal research funding. 

In a June 2018 report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a number of HBCUs surveyed reported millions in deferred maintenance backlogs. There is also a history of majority-white institutions receiving federal research funding at disproportionate rates to HBCUs.

While the source said Adams thinks the Biden administration has helped make great strides for HBCUs so far, she has concerns that the current language in the legislative text of Democrats' coming spending plan pits HBCUs against other MSIs instead of having dedicated funding streams. 

The United Negro College Fund Inc. (UNCF) also released a statement regarding the language drafted by the House's Committee on Education and Labor for the plan after legislative text was made public.

Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the UNCF, said then that more "financial investments must be made" and that HBCUs "should never be put in a position to compete against the more well-resourced institutions that have higher endowments and team of grant writers ready, willing and able to siphon off the funding that the Biden administration imagined would help our institutions."

There are more than 100 HBCUs in the nation, compared to more than 800 MSIs, according to The Washington Post

In a recent interview with the paper, Lodriguez Murray, UNCF's senior vice president for public policy and government affairs, also noted a number of MSIs that are larger have more resources on hand than most HBCUs, including grant writers.

The paper also reported, citing word from congressional aides, that lawmakers are considering solutions to the grant issue.

Over the past two weeks, 13 House committees have worked to craft their portions of the massive spending plan key to President Biden's economic agenda. 

However, leadership is expected to make further changes to the legislation before it comes to a floor vote.

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