A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that would double the Pell Grant over a five-year period and extend eligibility to undocumented students.
The Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act of 2021 -- introduced by Democratic senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Patty Murray of Washington alongside Democratic representatives Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Bobby Scott of Virginia -- would increase the maximum Pell Grant to $13,000 by the 2027-28 award year. The grant would be indexed to inflation for each subsequent award year.
A similar version of the legislation was introduced in 2017, also co-sponsored by Hirono, Murray and Scott.
“Over the last decade, the value of the Pell Grant has steadily declined -- from covering nearly fourth-fifths of the cost of attendance at a public, four-year institution at its height, to less than one-third,” Hirono said in a release. “With the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act, we have a real opportunity to restore the value of the Pell Grant for generations of students.”
In addition to doubling the award, the bill would make funding for the program fully mandatory to protect it from budget shortfalls, reinstate Pell Grant lifetime eligibility to 18 semesters -- up from 12 semesters, authorized in 2011 -- and set the minimum award level at 5 percent of the maximum so that part-time students are able to access the aid.
It also would allow students and families who receive federal benefits to qualify automatically for the maximum award plus an additional $1,500, an inclusion that was praised by the National College Attainment Network.
"This change has been a longtime priority for NCAN because it provides early awareness for students about their Pell eligibility and prevents the federal government from repeatedly asking students to prove their income," said Carrie Warick, NCAN director of policy and advocacy.
The bill is endorsed by 38 higher education organizations, including the American Council on Education, the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Association of American Universities.
“Doubling the Pell Grant maximum from $6,495 to $13,000 is the single most important step Congress can take to make access to college possible for all students," NAICU president Barbara Mistick said. "Pell Grants are a proven bipartisan program and the fairest and most efficient way to help low-income and first-generation students access and complete college."
President Biden has promised to double the Pell Grant during his time in office. So far, he's proposed a $1,400 increase as a "down payment" on his commitment.