U.S. House Bill Would Nix Year-Round Pell Grants

July 7, 2016

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday released a draft funding bill that would block implementation of federal gainful employment rules and would not back the U.S. Senate's attempt to restore year-round Pell Grant eligibility. The bill also includes $33.3 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which is $1.25 billion above this fiscal year's funding level.

The Obama administration's attempt to regulate vocational programs at colleges based on their graduates' labor-market standards went into effect last year. They apply to for-profit institutions and nondegree programs at community colleges and other nonprofit institutions. The draft House bill would prevent any of the proposed $162 billion for labor, health and human services from being used to "implement, administer or enforce" the final regulations.

Likewise, the bill does not include funding for year-round Pell, which would allow students to use the grants during summer sessions. Congress and the White House backed the elimination of that eligibility in 2011. The House proposal also would cut $1.3 billion from the Pell program, which has a roughly $7.8 billion surplus.

Consumer and higher education groups criticized the House bill, saying it would harm lower-income students. Some, however, also praised the proposed funding increase for biomedical research at the NIH.

"In addition to raiding Pell Grant funds, the draft House bill attempts again to block implementation of the commonsense gainful employment regulation designed to protect both students and taxpayers from career education programs that overcharge and underdeliver," said the Institute for College Access and Success, in a written statement.

The bill will be considered by a House subcommittee today. 

On Wednesday 120 House Democrats sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee in which they opposed cuts to the Pell program.

"Rescissions, cancelations 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, which Congress is expected to tackle in the coming months and years," they wrote. "Any current surplus balance reflects Congress’ intent and commitment to make college more affordable for millions of students through updating the Pell Grant program."

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