WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with US. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Jon Tester (D-MT), are leading a bipartisan group of 40 senators in pressing congressional leadership to include in the upcoming coronavirus relief package significant funding for the Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO), which are integral to supporting vulnerable students and their families that have been impacted by the virus.
The senators’ letter comes as the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis continues to exacerbate existing inequities in education—from significant losses of income to a lack of access to tools, such as reliable internet access, that are essential to participating in remote learning.
“Low-income students, students with disabilities, first-generation students, youth who are homeless, have limited English proficiency, and who are in foster care, students in rural communities, and military veterans all already face greater obstacles to their learning experiences and now are often encountering a more substantial impact from COVID-19,” the senators wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “These students are at risk of falling through the cracks of our system and permanently losing a chance to pursue higher levels of education.”
TRIO helps support these students through a set of outreach and student services programs that mitigate existing disparities in access and assistance. The programs enrich individual students academically and also strengthen the American workforce and economy by empowering more students to complete their high school education and pursue higher education degrees.
“A significant increase in overall program capacity would allow significantly more vulnerable students to receive support that is critical to their success and to the economy’s revival, such as academic tutoring and counseling; financial literacy programs; assistance with postsecondary planning, college admissions applications, and career counseling; peer and adult mentoring; work-study opportunities; and connections to wrap-around services that make high school and college completion more likely,” the senators continued.
“The COVID19 crisis hits TRIO’s first-generation and low-income students hardest as schools are closed and unemployment and poverty skyrocketed in Oregon. Without decisive and deliberate action, we may lose an entire generation of students. We are supremely grateful to Senator Merkley for being a champion for Oregon students in the Senate and leading the charge for crucial resources to help more low-income and first-generation students, veterans, and unemployed adults to gain access to the supports necessary to continue on the path to higher education,” said Sharilyn Brown, President of the Northwest Association of Educational Opportunity Programs and Director of Talent Search and Upward Bound at Southwestern Oregon Community College.
Senators Merkley, Collins, Murkowski, and Tester were joined in sending the letter by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Brian Schatz (D-HI), James Risch (R-ID), Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Boozman (R-AK), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
The full text of the senators’ letter is available here and follows below.
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:
Thank you for your swift, bipartisan action to respond to the health and economic impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). As you prepare for a fourth economic relief package, we respectfully request significant funding to be allocated to Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO) to support vulnerable students and their families impacted by the virus.
COVID-19 has disrupted the learning of millions of students. From in-person classroom closures to the cancellation of essential after-school programs, students across the nation have lost invaluable and formative academic experiences. These students are missing out on more than graduation ceremonies and exams; their academic and personal lives have been destabilized, and their career prospects have been shaken. Many students are in dire need of immediate, comprehensive support during this time of academic and economic uncertainty.
Low-income students, students with disabilities, first-generation students, youth who are homeless, have limited English proficiency, and who are in foster care, students in rural communities, and military veterans—all of whom already face greater obstacles to their learning experiences are often encountering a more substantial impact from COVID-19. These students are at risk of falling through the cracks of our system and permanently losing a chance to pursue higher levels of education.
TRIO programs help ensure that these vulnerable students receive the support they need to progress through the academic pipeline. Through a set of outreach and student services programs, TRIO works to mitigate existing disparities in access and assistance for students. Their programs not only enrich individuals academically, but they also enhance our workforce’s economic prospects by empowering more people to earn high school diplomas and post-secondary degrees. The assistance that TRIO program professionals can provide to these students is even more necessary during the pandemic.
A significant increase in overall program capacity would allow significantly more vulnerable students to receive support that is critical to their success and to the economy’s revival, such as academic tutoring and counseling; financial literacy programs; assistance with postsecondary planning, college admissions applications, and career counseling; peer and adult mentoring; work-study opportunities, and connections to wrap-around services that make high school and college completion more likely.
We thank you for your support of these vital programs for our nation’s most vulnerable students and their families, and we look forward to working with you on the next relief bill to ensure our most vulnerable students are supported.