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Tax Reform Update and Graduate Student Advocacy Opportunity


by SIOP Administrative Office

On November 16, the US House of Representatives passed a tax plan (H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act), that would significantly impact students and institutions of higher education. On the same day, the Senate Committee on Finance also advanced tax reform legislation. The Senate measure was quickly approved by the Budget Committee on November 29, moving the legislation to the floor for consideration by the full body. Of particular concern to SIOP is a proposal in the House bill that would tax tuition waivers many graduate students receive. This would result in increased tax liability for graduate students.

Many doctoral students currently receive a tax-free tuition waiver or benefit as part of their graduate package under Section 117(d)(5) of the tax code. If the House proposal were enacted, it would repeal 117(d)(5) and make any waived tuition taxable, thus adding many thousands of dollars to an individual graduate student’s taxable income. For some students, this could result in triple the tax liability and several thousands of dollars in additional payments to the IRS. The Senate is currently debating its own version of tax reform, which does not contain the House provision, but may it be considered as the chamber looks for measures to offset costs of the overall package. Senate leaders are hoping to bring the Senate bill to a vote as early as Friday, December 1.

In response to concerns about tax reform’s impacts on graduate students, SIOP joins other scientific societies in encouraging grassroots advocacy by members to urge congressional representatives to preserve graduate student tax benefit provisions. For members who want to take action, the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) has put together helpful advocacy materials for outreach by graduate students. The materials include a script for contacting Members of Congress, contact information for member offices, sample tweets, and other resources. As these bills are further considered, SIOP will seek additional opportunities to join with the scientific community on similar advocacy efforts on behalf of its membership.

To learn more about SIOP’s advocacy efforts, visit the SIOP Government Relations page.