Earmarks Are Back

Seven of the Appropriations Bills Approved by the House Committee Include Funding That Would Go Directly to Colleges and Universities.

The leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees announced at the beginning of 2021 that, after a 10-year suspension, they would accept requests from lawmakers for earmark spending.  This type of funding refers to a bill that specifically allocates money to a location, institution or project; the funding is commonly used to allocate money for research projects, parks, laboratories, business contracts or academic grants.  The earmarking process is meant to encourage bipartisanship, as the funding has the potential to directly benefit Democrats and Republicans. However, it appears that stronger support for earmark spending currently comes from Democrats; requests for the approved bills came from 178 total members, 126 Democrats and 52 Republicans. The main criticism of earmark spending is that the funding for the bills is collected through taxes from one community and redistributed elsewhere, and those outside the organization will ultimately receive no benefit from the spending.

The Democratic leadership of the House and Senate made notable updates to the earmark spending process, citing several weaknesses in the previous literature.  Now, all requests must be available online; lawmakers cannot have a financial interest in the project; the funding is limited to no more than 1% of discretionary spending, and funding is reserved for not-for-profit entities.

The House Appropriations Committee approved more than $272 million in funding through earmarks that would go toward projects at 228 colleges and universities.  The project funding levels span from large projects, such as $20 million for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to assist with construction, to smaller projects, such as $350,000 to North Carolina State University for computer science professional development. According to Inside Higher Ed, “most of the projects relate to facilities and equipment upgrades, curriculum and program development, and workforce initiatives.”  Further, $186 million of the earmark funding is a part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies bill.

In order for the colleges and universities to receive this funding, the appropriations bills must still be passed by Congress and signed by President Biden. The return to earmark funding closely aligns with President Biden’s plans and budget to increase student financial aid and research. For example, the House Appropriations Committee recently approved a bill that includes nearly $31 billion in total higher education spending for fiscal year 2022.  

If the appropriations bills pass, the selected colleges and universities may not all receive large sums of money, but they will receive additional funds that would not have been raised to support their students and community. 

For more information regarding updates to the earmark spending process, please contact Schneider Downs.

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