Pell grant changes have little effect on Lawrence

Mansi Poddar

President Bush’s new budget will feature a decrease of $1.3 billion in funding of small community programs nationwide, including community health, education, and job-training programs in Illinois in order to supplement the shortfall in the budget of the Pell Grant this year. Known as rescissions, the cuts would affect money that is being spent this year rather than next. The cuts are targeted at “earmarks,” which funding members of Congress direct home without administration review.

The Pell Grant program, the largest federal grant program to help low-income families pay for higher education, provides approximately $10 billion to four million students every year. The money can be utilized to pay for education at colleges, universities, and for vocational training along with other post-secondary programs.

The education department issued a statement saying that the Pell Grant program was running out of funds and would need $1.3 billion soon to keep its grants at the promised $4,000 maximum.

One reason the Pell Grant program fell short of funds is that more students than expected applied for aid last year. Also, in Dec., Congress approved legislation to increase the maximum Pell Grant to $4,000 from $3,500, but when more students than expected qualified, the program had only enough funding for grants of $3,600.

The proposal, introduced at a news conference at the education department, was received favorably by lobbyists for colleges and students, who have been persuading lawmakers to supplement the shortfall in the Pell Grant in this year’s budget rather than waiting until 2003. However, the lobbyists were skeptical about whether the lawmakers would consent to cut pet project budgets that they had included in the budget to benefit their home districts.

President Bush plans to ask lawmakers to cover the shortfall in the Pell Grant program in the “supplemental” appropriations bill it considers this year, said William D. Hansen, the deputy U.S. secretary of education. Every year, the lawmakers introduce supplemental appropriations bills to provide extra funds for unexpected and emergency expenses that have arisen during the year. Lawmakers have also been known to annul funds from spending bills that have already been passed to help pay for the emergency items.

According to Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, college groups were “delighted that the president had decided to highlight this issue in his budget plan.” However, he said he expected the Congress “to have reservations about the proposed offsets,” as lawmakers “have traditionally been very reluctant to redirect earmarks after they have been enacted.” Despite this, he said that college groups were eager to work with the White House to supplement the Pell Grant this year.

Bush’s support of the Pell Grant was apparent ever since he campaigned for presidency in Aug. 2001. At that time, he proposed a plan which called for an increase in the maximum federal Pell Grant available to first year college students from $3,000 to $5,100. The $5 billion component would make it possible for 800,000 students to enter college every year, the Bush campaign said.

Last year, 243 Lawrence students received a Pell Grant, out of which 44 students received the maximum amount.

When asked about the potential effects of the increase in Pell Grants on Lawrence, Dean Syverson said, “the increase [in Pell Grant] may make waves in Congress, but it’s not going to effect Lawrence too profoundly, as the grants are given to the students, and they take them where they choose to go to college, as opposed to colleges themselves.”

Also, he seemed skeptical about the actual increase in the amount of the Pell Grant. “It’s only on paper. They don’t really have the money as yet,” he said. He explained that the concept behind the Pell Grant is to ensure that every student has access to a certain amount of money for college. It supplements a student’s income by however much necessary to reach this amount.

Because of the ongoing recession, more students will qualify for the Pell Grant this year. If too many students qualify, the maximum amount of the grant will decrease again, just like it did last year. Therefore, Syverson does not see the supposed increase in the Pell Grant having any significant effects on Lawrence aid.