Community and Government Report, February 2009

News from Washington

President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus package on February 17. This comprehensive act will provide $789 billion dollars in aid to jumpstart the ailing economy. The act emphasises "shovel-ready" projects that would put people to work and fund projects throughout the country. The bill originally passed by the House of Representatives called for greater funding of construction projects for schools and colleges. Once in the Senate, the bill was amended and much of the college construction assistance was cut. However the increase in Pell grant was left intact.

As the ultimate version of this package emerges it is clear that it will take many days for the final details to be known. Nevertheless, here are some of the highlights on job creation alone. According to the White House the act will translate into 75,000 jobs in the Bay Area. In the 7th Congressional District, represented by George Miller, D-Martinez, the White House projects 7,400 jobs will be created. In the 10th District, represented by Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, 7,600 jobs should be created. Saint Mary's is located in the 10th District.

Highlights of this legislation will provide immediate relief for college students in several ways, including:
• Increasing the Pell Grant scholarship by $500. The bill increases the maximum award to $5,350 by next school year and to $5,550 for 2010. This brings the total Pell Grant funding increases to $1,500 – or 37 percent – since 2006. About seven million students would benefit from this increase;
• Establishing a new college tuition tax credit of $2,500. The bill establishes a new, partially refundable "American Opportunity" tax credit, expanding access for higher education tax credit to about four million students;
• Creating new work-study opportunities for college students. The bill invests $200 million in work-study opportunities for college students. This will help 130,000 students earn about $1,500 per year; and
• The college construction fund was cut in the Senate but some feel a portion may be restored in the funds to the states. It is unclear if these funds can be used for higher ed, or simply K-12.

We are watching this legislation closely and anticipate that the the College would be in position to benefit from this act.

News from Sacramento

As the California economy continues to weaken, our state coffers are nearly broke, our bond rating suffers and tax refunds are delayed. State legislators passed a state budget in the early morning hours of February 19. Since this budget was a mid-year adjustment to the budget bill passed in September, it has an 18-month component so we will not revisit the budget drama this summer.
As a budget deal unfolds it will be a few days before all the facts are known, nevertheless rumors swirl that the Cal Grant program may have fared better than had been expected. According to the latest from the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), the Cal Grant program may be spared some of the original cuts proposed by the Governor's Office. "Two values have converged to achieve this result. First, the compelling nature of the Cal Grant entitlement idea - if you earn a B average in high school, you can go to college - is inviolate to some legis¬lators, including some heavy hitters in the Democratic caucus. Second, the realiza¬tion that a cut in the maximum award puts even more pressure on CSU and UC enroll¬ments" said AICCU. Final details should be released later this week.

Nevertheless, the Cal Grant program received some good news when the independent California Legislative Analyst's Office, LAO, released a report rejecting the governor's proposed budget cuts in Cal Grants. According to the report, fee increases at the UC and CSU system would offset the need for cuts in Cal grants. The complete report may be found here: Here are some highlights of the report:

"The general fund savings made possible by the universities' fee increases would be more than enough to substitute for the governor's proposed financial aid cuts. Alongside proposed fee increases of about 10 percent at the universities, the governor proposes to reduce and restrict state financial aid programs. Given that student fees are low by national standards, we think increasing fees is a sensible way to provide resources to the seg¬ments in lieu of general fund support. In order to ensure that fee increases do not prevent higher education access for financially needy students, however, the state would need to increase, rather than reduce, funding for its financial aid programs. Instead, the governor proposes to reduce funding for the state's Cal Grant programs by $87.5 million from the level that would be required under current program rules. We think this reduction is unwise, as it undermines finan¬cial aid expectations that the state has carefully established, and on which students and their families have come to rely." On March 12, I will be taking student recipients of Cal Grants to Sacrament to testify before selected legislators on the merit of this program as well as to advocate for continued funding of the Cal Grant. In past years, these visits have provided valuable firsthand accounts of the benefits of the Cal Grant.

News from Moraga

On Wednesday, February 11, Brother Ronald received a resolution from the Town Of Moraga commending the college for our 80 years in Moraga.

The Gael Rail bus schedule will change. The County Connection will modify its Sunday service to enhanced and extend service by two-and-a-half hours beginning March 22. Existing service begins at noon on Sunday. The new schedule has service beginning at 9:24 a.m.

Rep. John Dingell, D- Michigan.Political Trivia

Finally, Rep. John Dingell, D- Michigan, made history this month by becoming the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, ever. Rep. Dingell passed Rep. Jamie Whitten's 55 years on February 11. Dingell, first elected to the House in a 1955 in special election to replace his late father, Rep. John Dingell Sr. who held the same seat since 1933. Both father and son Dingell's have represented the same Michigan district for an astonishing 76 years, and counting.