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Hirono, Murray, Davis, Scott Introduce Major Legislation to Secure Pell Grant Program and Make College More Affordable for Low-Income Students

The Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act helps students offset the rising costs of college by permanently indexing Pell Grants to inflation, increasing its purchasing power

Bill also makes Pell Grant funding mandatory, providing students with security of stability of program

Nearly eight million students currently receive Pell Grants—more than 40 percent of students enrolled in higher education

WASHINGTON, D.C.- Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Representatives Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced the Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act that will expand and permanently safeguard the Pell Grant program, helping millions of low-income students offset the rising costs of college. The bill would improve the purchasing power of Pell Grants, permanently index the maximum grant to inflation, shift the Pell Grant program to fully mandatory funding, and restore eligibility for defrauded students.

“Last year, more than 20,000 Hawaii students received financial support through the federal Pell Grant program,” said Senator Hirono. “However, much work remains to ensure that more students receive a meaningful Pell Grant award. This bill increases the maximum award for low-income students, makes sure that awards keep pace with inflation, and makes other improvements to the program so that Pell Grants can continue to make college more affordable for students. I thank Senator Murray for her support of this effort.”

“Earning a college degree is the key to opportunity for so many low-income students, but far too many students must take on massive amounts of debt just to get the skills and education they need to get a good job with a decent living,” said Senator Murray. “I am proud to introduce this legislation to expand the Pell Grant program and give the eight million students currently receiving Pell Grants some additional needed stability and security. As a recipient of Pell Grants myself, I know firsthand the danger of President Trump’s vision for slashing student aid. Instead, I will keep fighting to make college more affordable for students across the country.”

The Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act also extends the program to DREAMers and restores eligibility to incarcerated individuals, encouraging them to support themselves and their families, upon release. The bill also increases support for working students, expands eligibility to short-term job training programs of high quality, and increases Pell Grant eligibility to 14 semesters to give non-traditional students more flexibility to complete their degrees.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that all students have access to a quality education without the fear of a lifetime of debt,” said Representative Davis. “I’m thrilled to introduce this comprehensive legislation, with Ranking Member Scott and Senators Hirono and Murray, aimed at making the Pell program more sustainable. This bill will increase the purchasing power of the Pell grant and give low-income students access to the education they need to get to the middle-class and beyond.”

“The Pell Grant is the most important tool we have to help low-income students afford higher education, but for too long Congress has neglected students by allowing the purchasing power of Pell Grants to erode over time,” said Representative Scott. “By reversing prior eligibility cuts and ensuring stable funding for a larger Pell Grant, the Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act will help millions of students reach their potential without being forced to take on excessive debt. This bill is one of several initiatives House Democrats have proposed as part of the legislative campaign, Aim Higher, to make higher education work for all students.”

The bill also incorporates priorities from other Members of Congress, and is cosponsored by Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Representatives Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.).

Jannah Lyn Dela Cruz, President of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, shared the following statement about how federal funding, like Pell Grants, has impacted her family:

“My twin sister and I are first generation college students in my family. Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance and value in education and how far it will take me when I start a life and family of my own. Entering college was only made easy for my sister and I when we found out we were eligible for federal funding, including the Pell Grant. My parents have to support two students attending college at the same time, which makes money much, much tighter to support my whole family. Without the Pell Grant, there is no certainty on if I would have been able to begin and continue this academic journey of mine to discover and learn about what I want to do after the completion of my college career. To graduate and pursue a career that can financially support myself and give back to my parents is my goal. Generally, students too may see that their federal aid such as the Pell Grant is a foundation to their beginning and step towards completing their college career and successes in life. Education is not as accessible when financial factors are in the way. This can deteriorate a student's hope in academic fulfillment and success. Our students across the country must be supported to achieve, and the Pell Grant is a huge step of support that must continue to live and thrive."

The text of the Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act can be found HERE.

Fact sheet on the Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act can be found HERE and below:

Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act

Fifty-two years ago, the Higher Education Act was signed into law with the goal of providing students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to grow and strengthen their economic security. By investing more in higher education, we can give students and families the ability to afford critical education and training and the opportunity to succeed. The Pell Grant program is the largest source of federally-funded grant aid for postsecondary education, serving nearly eight million students, or more than 40 percent of all students enrolled in higher education.

Unfortunately, as college costs have risen dramatically in recent decades, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant has reached a record low. Additionally, large fluctuations in the economy have harmed working families and created unnecessary uncertainty that funding will be there to support students with financial need. Unstable and unpredictable funding is not the promise that the Higher Education Act of 1965 envisioned.

Instead of introducing thoughtful proposals to secure the Pell Grant program in light of these urgent challenges, President Trump has proposed to raid $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant program in Fiscal Year 2018 to pay for a border wall, increased defense spending, and other priorities. If combined with draconian cuts to mandatory funds proposed in many previous budgets by Congressional Republicans, the President’s raid would severely destabilize the funding of this critical grant program and potentially lead to slashing award levels or cutting many students out of the program entirely. Undermining the Pell Grant will push college even further out of reach for low-income students and drive many students deeper into debt.

Congress must reject this vision for higher education and student aid. Instead, the Pell Grant program must continue to be a reliable source of funding for aspiring students, their families, and future generations. Building on the bipartisan reinstatement of the year-round Pell Grant, and the rejection of other devastating higher education cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 (Public Law 115-31), the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act 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.