Scott, Hinojosa Urge Appropriations Subcommittees to Protect Pell Grants for Students
WASHINGTON – Today, Ranking Member Robert “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) and Ranking Member Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) sent a letter to Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) expressing concern with proposals that would weaken the Pell Grant program in the FY 2017 LHHS bill, and supporting an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award. Committee Democrats believe that students should have access to a higher education that provides them with the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the 21st century economy without having to take on decades’ worth of student debt. Pell Grants— the foundation of federal financial aid for low-income students—are critical to this effort. The letter argues for Congress to keep any surpluses in the Pell Grant within the Pell Grant program and not divert these funds to unrelated programs or agencies within the LHHS bill.
“To support the Pell Grant program, it is critical to preserve all available resources in the program,” read the letter. “Rescissions, cancellations, or funding level cuts will worsen the funding outlook for Pell Grants and make it harder to strengthen the program through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Any current surplus balance reflects Congress’ intent to make college more affordable for millions of students. In fiscal year 2017, we urge you to keep these funds in the Pell Grant program.”
Rather than directing Pell resources to other priorities, Ranking Members Scott and Hinojosa urged the subcommittees to make good use of surplus balances by increasing the award – set in the LHHS bill – from $4,860 to $5,000. This increase, when paired with the supplemental funding provided in statute, would raise the maximum Pell Grant to an estimated $6,055 in the 2017-18 academic year—increasing the purchasing power of Pell to two-thirds of the average price of tuition and fees at an in-state four-year institution. Committee Democrats are committed to working towards a comprehensive and bipartisan reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. An increase of the maximum Pell Grant award through the appropriations process will bolster efforts during reauthorization to ensure Pell Grants cover a greater share of college costs for more students.
Full text of the letter:
Dear Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Murray, Chairman Cole, and Ranking Member DeLauro:
For nearly a half-century, the Pell Grant program has been the foundation of federal financial aid for low-income students – opening doors to colleges and universities across the nation. As House and Senate Appropriations Committees continue to work on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) funding bills, we write to reinforce the importance of the Pell Grant program and urge against harmful cuts that will make college more expensive for students in future years.
As you are aware, the March update to CBO’s Pell baseline expects the program to carry forward a temporary $7.8 billion in surplus balances due to lower-than-expected program costs. While we are pleased the program is on strong fiscal footing in a tight budget climate, we are concerned there will be proposals to raid Pell to address other similarly important LHHS funding needs. These needs should be met through a strong LHHS allocation rather than on the backs of college students.
To support Pell Grants, it is critical to preserve all available resources in the program. Rescissions, cancellations, or funding level cuts will worsen the funding outlook for Pell Grants and make it harder to strengthen the program through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Any current surplus balance reflects Congress’ intent to make college more affordable for millions of students. In fiscal year 2017, we urge you to keep these funds in the Pell Grant program.
In the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, Congress and President Obama enacted a historic increase in the Pell Grant maximum award as millions of Americans went back to school to develop their skills. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) built on these gains by automatically increasing the maximum award with inflation through 2017. However, despite these efforts to improve affordability, the cost of attending college still continues to rise, and the Pell Grant simply isn’t keeping pace.
This year, with the program financially strong, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have an opportunity to give Pell Grant recipients their first significant raise since 2009 by increasing the maximum discretionary award set in appropriations from $4,860 to $5,000. This increase, when paired with the supplemental funding provided in statute, would raise the maximum Pell Grant to an estimated $6,055 in the 2017-18 academic year—increasing the purchasing power of Pell to two-thirds of the average price of tuition and fees at an in-state four-year institution.
Starting in 2017, the final year of Pell inflationary increases, the SAFRA formula allows us to increase the discretionary award without requiring a large mandatory offset. This is because the mandatory add-on for 2017 and every subsequent year is calculated as a function of the discretionary award that was set in the 2016 appropriations bill. On top of this critical new investment for students, there should also be enough resources to restore year-round Pell eligibility while still leaving the program in solid financial standing for future years. In light of this positive funding outlook, we should take advantage of our opportunity in the 2017 LHHS bill to place critical new dollars in the pockets of hard working Pell Grant recipients.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.
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