Year-round Pell Appropriation in Jeopardy

July 7, 2016

By Allie Ciaramella, Communications Manager 

A House appropriations subcommittee approved a bill today that would cut about $1.3 billion from the Pell Grant program -- without restoring year-round Pell Grants, as the body’s Senate counterpart moved to do last month.

In June, a Senate subcommittee approved almost unanimously a bipartisan appropriations bill for the first time in seven years -- one that restored year-round Pell Grants, but also redirected about $1.2 billion from Pell’s estimated $7.8 billion surplus toward the National Institutes of Health.

But the House version nixed the year-round grants, while still increasing the maximum grant award to $5,935 next year because of the program's mandatory funding stream. The bill also contains a $27 million year-over-year funding increase for the Federal Work-Study Program. And it includes policy riders to block several of the Obama administration’s controversial higher education regulations, including those regarding teacher preparation, state authorization, the federal definition of a credit hour and “gainful employment,” a rule intended to crack down on poorly performing for-profit colleges.

The individual spending bill probably won’t get far, as Congress faces a backlog of such legislation with the year drawing to a close. But it does set the stage for debates (which are looking increasingly likely) over how to instead fund the entire government in a single omnibus bill later this year.

Restoring the year-round Pell Grant through the appropriations process could, under the Senate subcommittee’s proposal, give almost 1 million low-income students access to the funds for the 2017-18 academic year, allowing them to enroll continuously.

The National College Access Network applauded the Senate subcommittee’s short-term victory for students -- year-round Pell Grants -- and also cautions against over-drawing funds from the Pell surplus to pay for non-student aid programs. The year-round Pell Grant costs approximately $1.4 billion, according to President Barack Obama's budget estimate. If the appropriations process keeps removing money from the surplus in future funding cycles, the program will reach a shortfall earlier than anticipated.

NCAN also encourages Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, the leaders of the HELP Committee who also sit on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, to strengthen the Pell Grant program even further through Higher Education Act reauthorization, so students can attend school year-round and know that their Pell Grant will continue to increase annually -- as does the cost of college.

In a letter sent to leading House appropriators Wednesday, Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) and 120 other House Democrats said that cutting Pell funds now will make it harder to strengthen the program during reauthorization.

"Any current surplus balance reflects Congress' intent and commitment to make college more affordable for millions of students through updating the Pell Grant program," they wrote. "The [Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education] appropriations bill should not balance other funding needs on the backs of low-income college students."

The full House Appropriations Committee could consider the bill next week.



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