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White House Wants to Use Pell Surplus to Fund NASA

May 15, 2019

The Trump administration proposed cutting the Pell Grant surplus to fund new spending at agencies including NASA in a budget amendment this week.

The White House fiscal year 2020 budget proposal released in March included a $2 billion cut to the Pell surplus. The budget amendment calls for redirecting another $1.9 billion in Pell funds. The Associated Press first reported the proposal.

As the economy has improved in recent years, enrollment of Pell Grant recipients has declined, the administration wrote, meaning funding has lasted longer. The White House argued that the program would still have enough discretionary funding until fiscal year 2023 and that students would not be affected by the proposed cut. The Pell program currently has a surplus of $9 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat and chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education, said in a statement that the budget amendment would be dead on arrival like the rest of the president's budget proposal

“President Trump and his team should stop wasting their time on theatrics,” she said. “Instead, I will continue do my job governing and funding critical programs that help people in every stage of their life. We passed a substantive Labor-HHS-Education funding bill out of the Appropriations Committee last week -- one that makes critical investments in low-income and first-generation students by increasing the maximum Pell Grant, federal work-study and other grant aid. I look forward to passing our bill out of the House in short order.”

Jon Fansmith, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, said the proposal was still worrying because it could encourage members of Congress to view the Pell surplus as a pot of money to potentially fund priorities unrelated to education.

"The reason there's a Pell surplus is we have a good economy and Pell works countercyclically," he said. "We are never sure going forward when the next economic downturn is going to happen and demands on the program are going to skyrocket."

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Institute for College Access and Success, and the Education Trust also issued statements opposing the proposed cut to the Pell surplus. 

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Andrew Kreighbaum

Andrew Kreighbaum joins Inside Higher Ed as our federal policy reporter. Andrew comes to us from The Investigative Reporting Workshop. He received his master's in data journalism at the University of Missouri, and has interned at USA Today and a national journalism institute in Columbia, MO. Before getting his master's, Andrew spent three years covering government and education at local papers in El Paso, McAllen and Laredo, Texas. He graduated in 2010 from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in history and was news editor at The Daily Texan.

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