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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Save and expand Pell Grants

Support efforts by Senators Whitehouse and Reed to save Pell grants and expand them
Young Democrats of Rhode Island
Pell Grants have been an absolutely essential piece of making college affordable, and a degree achievable. The program has enabled hundreds of thousands of low and middle class students to attend college. It is not an exaggeration to say that eliminating the program would make the already challenging prospect of attending college, impossible for many Rhode Islanders.
Pell Grants are federal need-based financial aid packages awarded to qualified undergraduate students. Pell Grants help pay for tuition, but unlike student loans, they do not need to be paid back. Last year, over 7 million students nationwide, including 30,000 Rhode Island students, benefited from over $28 billion in Pell Grants. 

Trump is of course proposing massive cuts to the program in his budget. Cuts that would put higher education beyond the reach of thousands of young Rhode Islanders. His message is clear, if you aren’t already wealthy or willing to take on overwhelming debt, then an education isn’t for you. Thankfully, our senators are fighting back.

Senators Reed and Whitehouse have introduced “The Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act”. The bill not only maintains the Pell Grant program, it improves it.

When Pell Grants were first introduced, they covered over 70% of a student’s tuition at a public four year institution. Today, they only cover about a third. This bill l would tie the Pell to inflation so that the steady climb in college tuition won’t outpace it. That's just one of the many improvements within the bill.

We need to not only resist Trump’s agenda but advance our own positive vision for our country. A vision that lets people know we stand with them. This bill is a great step in that direction.

So please sign and share the thank you card to let our senators know that if they fight for us, we will fight for them.

Read some coverage of their efforts here and additional details of the improvements are included below.

The Bill would:
·         Improve the purchasing power of Pell Grants: The maximum Pell Grant of $5,920 in 2017-2018 will cover just 29 percent of the costs of college at a public university, compared to 79 percent of those costs shortly after Congress created the grant 40 years ago. Under current law, the maximum Pell Grant will also remain fixed at this level in Fiscal Year 2018 with no future inflationary increases, which would further erode the purchasing power of the grant. This bill would provide an immediate $500 increase to the maximum award and grow the value of the Pell Grant over time by permanently indexing it to inflation.

·         Shift the Pell Grant program to mandatory funding: By making Pell Grant funding fully mandatory, instead of subject to the annual discretionary appropriations process, this bill ensures that students can count on their Pell Grants being fully funded now and into the future. In particular, enrollment tends to spike during recessions when workers seek retraining and upskilling, often leading to devastating exclusions from eligibility and other short-sighted changes to financial aid policy. Mandatory funding will ensure that the Pell Grant program is stable even during tough economic times.

·         Reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for defrauded students: This bill would reset the clock on a student’s Pell Grant eligibility if they were defrauded as evidenced by successfully asserting a borrower defense, including many former Corinthian College students.

·         Allow DREAMers to afford college: Undocumented students who were brought here as children are unfairly forbidden from accessing federal financial aid. This bill would extend Pell Grant eligibility to DREAMers, help these students continue their education, and allow our diverse society to benefit from their enormous talents and potential.

·         Restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals: This bill revokes a counterproductive prohibition banning incarcerated individuals from accessing Pell Grants, which only encourages recidivism and limits their ability to support themselves and their families upon release. Repealing this 1994 provision is also smart policy: for every dollar invested in prison education, four to five dollars are saved on re-incarceration costs.

·         Reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for students with drug-related offenses: This bill repeals a 1998 prohibition on federal financial aid for college students convicted of a drug offense and eliminates drug questions on the FAFSA. Data show that students of color and low-income students are disproportionately affected by the existing disqualification.

·         Extend Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality, short-term job training programs: This bill would allow students in short-term job training to be eligible for Pell Grants if they participate in a career pathway program leading to an in-demand, industry-recognized credential. It is important that students and workers have the option to pursue short-term programs to gain the training, skills, and credentials that are in high demand in their local or regional labor market, and that prepare them for professional licensure or certification.

·         Move the Iraq & Afghanistan Service Grant into the Pell Grant program: By moving this program for children of fallen military servicemembers who died in the line of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11 into the Pell Grant program, it safeguards a recipient from more than $400 per year in cuts to their grant as a result of the sequester.

·         Increase support for working students: This bill reduces the “work penalty” that many students face when working to support themselves and offset rising college costs. By enacting a 35 percent increase to the income protection allowance (IPA) for working students, this bill will shield more of their income from any offset to financial aid.

·         Allow very low-income students and families to qualify for full Pell Grants: This bill fully reverses cuts to the income threshold at which a student receives a zero dollar expected family contribution (EFC) back to $34,000, which is where the level would have grown to if cuts had not been made in 2011. This change will streamline the financial aid process for the poorest students and ensure they can easily access a full Pell Grant.
  • Increase Pell Grant lifetime eligibility to 14 semesters: Too many students exhaust their Pell Grant eligibility before they are able to complete their program, often because their credits didn’t transfer, they had to care for family members, or even when they attended fraudulent institutions. This bill extends eligibility from the current 12 semesters to 14.