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U.S. Senate Supports Increase in Pell Grant Amount

U.S. Senate Supports Increase in Pell Grant Amount
By Charles Dervarics

The U.S. House and Senate are taking different approaches to the 2004 budget battle, with the Senate coming down on the side of increased financial aid funds.

A Senate-approved budget for 2004 includes a $450 increase in the maximum Pell Grant. The top grant would reach $4,500 under this plan, proposed by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and endorsed by the full Senate.

But the late March vote is not necessarily a long-term victory. That’s because the House of Representatives would freeze Pell at its current level β€” $4,050 β€” and the White House would hold the line at $4,000.

To pay for the higher Pell Grant, Kennedy targeted $1.8 billion originally planned for President Bush’s latest round of tax cuts. That tax package β€” worth $726 billion β€” is running into problems from Democrats, as well as moderate Republicans concerned about such a large reduction in light of the war in Iraq and an uneven domestic economy.

As a result, senators were able to divert some of the tax-cut proceeds toward domestic programs β€” at least for now. Lawmakers will use these budget resolutions as a guide when writing program-by-program appropriations for fiscal year 2004.

In proposing the amendment, Kennedy said the increased funding would not only raise the maximum grant but allow 200,000 more individuals to receive grants based on their low incomes.

Groups such as the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education endorsed the Kennedy plan.

The Senate also voted to improve on Bush administration spending recommendations for the new K-12 reform law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

But the Senate plans will face stiff opposition in the House, where lawmakers approved an across-the-board 1 percent cut in domestic programs, including education. The House also wants to find savings of up to $10 billion in student loan programs, a provision higher education groups oppose.

Education advocates say the Pell increase will face a tough test this month when House and Senate negotiators meet to produce a final budget agreement that will set overall guidelines for the 2004 spending bills.

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