Year-round Pell Returns in Congress' Budget Deal

May 1, 2017

By Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Low-income students will once again be able to access Pell Grant dollars year-round, thanks to Congress’ new budget deal. The restoration of this benefit will help our students stay on track with or even accelerate their studies, and NCAN has advocated for year-round Pell’s return since its elimination five years ago. In this updated version of the program, an estimated 1 million students attending at least half-time will be eligible to receive one and a half Pell Grants during an academic year.

"Every budget has trade-offs, but the return of year-round Pell Grants will have a definite impact on the low-income students that our member programs serve," NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook said.

The trade-off here is that Congress, which made this change during fiscal year 2017 budget negotiations but still must vote on the deal, also rescinded $1.3 billion in unobligated Pell Grant dollars – government speak for the "reserve" funds that accumulate in years when fewer Pell Grants are needed than anticipated. In the long run, removing these funds could be detrimental to the program because they are used to supplement funding in years when more Pell Grant awards are needed than anticipated.

Congress also agreed to keep intact the scheduled increase in the maximum Pell Grant award. For the 2017-18 year, students with an expected family contribution of $0 will now receive a Pell Grant worth $5,920. However, this is the last year of scheduled increases for the Pell Grant program. Without congressional action, the maximum Pell Grant will remain at $5,920 in perpetuity. As tuition continues to rise each year, allowing the Pell Grant to flatline will further erode its purchasing power.

While the return of “Summer Pell,” as it used to be called, is written to take effect immediately, it is unclear whether students will be able to take advantage of the new funding this summer. NCAN will continue to keep members updated as the U.S. Department of Education releases additional information about the changes. 

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