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Pell Grant problems

February 17, 2012

In November 2004, the last time Republicans held a majority in Congress, the Pell Grant came close to possible extinction for many college students. The Pell Grant is the principal source of federal or government grant funding for higher education by more than $300 million. At that time, Republicans brought up a bill that would have cut federal funding for Pell lowering individual aid for an estimated 1 million students by $300 and causing another 100,000 or so to lose the benefits entirely. The bill did not pass.

Now, tea party Republicans are targeting the Pell Grant by calling for deep cuts into federal funding for the program. The proposed budget cuts, again, threaten to reduce the maximum amount allowed by students—around $5,550 per academic year—and make many more ineligible to receive benefits at all.

In the past, we’ll say, before the national debt grew to an incomprehensible size, the Pell Grant seemed almost untouchable. A program that helps young adults from lower income families gain access to a college education, many of those being minorities, the Pell Grant had wide spread support and favor from both sides of the aisle.

The Pell was started by Congress in the 1970s and has grown substantially since then. In large part due to its history of maintaining large support from Capitol Hill.

How large has it grown? It typically runs between $30 and $40 billion a year and, in most years, runs a deficit. One reason for the long run of deficit is that the program is, for the most part, an entitlement. Come from a household making less than the mark set by the federal government? Is the student enrolled in classes at a credited institution of higher education? No drug or felony convictions? Then the student should receive money for school, assuming they took the time to fill out the necessary forms online. If the demand is higher than supply, or the money runs short, the Education Department is allowed to borrow from the next year’s appropriated funds to cover the shortages.

The feud for control over government spending is far from over. On Monday, Feb. 13, President Obama released the budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, and the administration has been fielding questions and taking public shots from Republicans since. The new budget seems to ignore tea partiers’ and other Republicans’ request for deeper cuts into federal funding appropriated for education as it calls for $69.8 billion in discretionary funding for education programs, the Pell Grant being a large chunk of it. There are two new initiatives, however. One for $8 billion toward training millions of workers to fulfill high-skilled jobs in high-growth industries, and another $800 million for educating 100,000 new teachers—which is designed on a competitive platform.

Bobby Schilling (R-Colona) won the 17th Congressional District in 2010 running as a tea partier. He, and many other tea party freshmen who helped Republicans win a majority in the house have widely supported Speaker of the House John Boehner’s bill to cut spending—including those appropriated for the Pell Grant—and form a committee to examine institutional reform.

Schilling recently told the Washington Post, “Neither side of the aisle is blameless for the fiscal crisis we are in, and both are responsible for guiding us out of it. The current budgeting process is neither transparent nor accurate, and – if you take a look at the 1,015 days since the Senate last passed a budget – hardly mandatory.”

Schilling promptly voted against the president’s new budget on Tuesday. The new budget is being called The Journal.

 Democratic candidate for the 17th U.S. Congressional District Cheri Bustos told The Courier on Wednesday, “I want more students who seek to attend college to be able to achieve this goal. It is important so businesses have access to a workforce that is trained for 21st century jobs, and so that innovators can put their ideas into action. Pell Grants is an essential program that helps more students attend college, and for this reason, I am against any Pell Grant cuts.”

A large chunk of Pell Grant funds go toward non-traditional students returning to college for multiple reasons—like a poor economy (you cannot draw unemployment benefits as a student). It was recently reported that The University of Pheonix-online receives more than $1 billion in Pell money a year. With the Department of Defense possibly reducing personnel by nearly 102,500, and the economy still struggling in growth, it doesn’t seem likely that the number of non-traditional students will shrink in the near future. Despite the GI Bill, most veterans will qualify for Pell under its current structure.

Ryan Bronaugh
Veteran Writer


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