Senate Spending Bill Calls for $100 Pell IncreaseThe maximum Pell Grant for needy students would increase by $100 next year under a new Senate proposal that is drawing both praise and criticism among advocates.
If enacted into law, the bill would fund a Pell Grant of $4,100 next year, another new record for the program. While smaller than the increases of recent years, advocates say, the extra $100 still is an achievement in the current budget environment. The Bush administration had recommended no increase for next year at a time when the nation is facing a deficit rather than a budget surplus.
“In a tight budget year, we are delighted that some enhancements were possible in these important programs,” says Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education.
But the praise was not universal, particularly among student groups.
“We’re still disappointed,” says Mary Cunningham, legislative director for the United States Student Association. Even with small increases in Pell, the $100 increase means the nation may be “falling behind” in opening up access to higher education.
The Democrat-controlled Senate plan also may be a best-case scenario for Pell next year, many advocates say. If the Republican-led House holds true to form, it likely will follow the Bush request for no increase next year, she says.
In a related move, however, Congress has taken additional steps to address current shortfalls in the Pell program. An emergency-spending bill for defense and homeland security includes a provision to cover most of the program’s $1.3 billion shortfall, triggered by unusually heavy demand due to the economic downturn.
As a result, much of the extra money the Senate has slated for Pell in 2003 can go toward the increase in the maximum grant.
Elsewhere, the Senate’s spending bill would provide a $30 million increase for TRIO programs that help prepare young people to enroll and stay in college. Overall, the bill allots $833 million for these programs.
Other highlights of the bill include level funding of $1.01 billion and $725 million for college work/study and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, respectively. Lawmakers would provide an extra $5 million to the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships program, for $72 million next year.
The bill also rejects proposed Bush administration cutbacks in federal job training programs for youths and adults. Instead of cuts, the bill would provide level funding for most of these activities, funded under the Workforce Investment Act.
Further action on the Senate plan is not expected until after Labor Day. The House Appropriations Committee has tentatively scheduled a Sept. 5 meeting to present its education spending recommendations.
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