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Democrats Introduce Bill to Bolster Pell Grants

May 17, 2017
 
 

Democrats in the House and Senate introduced new legislation Tuesday that would permanently index the value of the grant to inflation, while making funding for the program mandatory and expanding or reinstating access for a number of student groups.

Senators Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii and Patty Murray of Washington and Representatives Susan Davis of California and Bobby Scott of Virginia introduced the bill, the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act. Murray and Scott are the ranking Democrats on their chambers' respective education committees.

The senators say the Pell Grant would remain fixed at the current maximum of $5,920 in fiscal year 2018 without additional fixes, eroding the value of the grant. And they say making funding for the program mandatory, rather than discretionary, would protect it from cuts during spikes in demand. The bill would also extend access to Pell Grants to "high-quality, short-term" job-training programs, raise the income threshold for the grant, and increase lifetime eligibility to 14 semesters. It also would reinstate or expand access for defrauded students who make successful borrower-defense claims, Dreamers, incarcerated students and students with drug-related convictions.

While Pell Grants have received bipartisan support -- evidenced by the reinstatement of year-round Pell in the 2017 omnibus funding package -- the bill will likely struggle to get Republican support. It's part of a higher ed campaign House Democrats announced Monday focused on access, affordability and completion.

Democrats launched a similar campaign last year -- called In the Red -- that went nowhere.

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