Congressional leaders last night agreed to a $1 trillion bill to fund the government, averting a shutdown that would have started at midnight tonight. The bill reportedly dropped many of the unrelated policy riders that House Republicans had tried to insert into it.
However, the bill does include a cut to the Pell Grant program that could affect up to 100,000 low-income students. Republicans have been pushing for months to slash the Pell Grant program — which provides low-income students with money for higher education — and to limit it’s eligibility requirements. Though the maximum grant will be preserved under the spending deal, students on the edges of eligibility will be out of luck next year:
The bill, HR 3671, draws from ideas put forward in Republican and Democratic spending plans earlier this year: it would preserve the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550, but change the program’s eligibility criteria, making as many as 100,000 of its 9 million recipients ineligible. The grants could be used for a total of 12 semesters, not 18, as in the past — a change that would affect an estimated 62,000 beneficiaries and take effect July 1, 2012. Higher education lobbyists said the limit would apply to any semesters a student was enrolled, rather than only those in which he or she attended full-time, as they had originally thought.
The maximum amount families could earn and automatically contribute nothing toward an undergraduate education would decrease from $30,000 to $23,000.
The plan also retroactively limits the number of semesters that a student can use grants, meaning some students a semester or two away from graduation could see their grants dry up. The Institute for College Access and Success said that these changes “would disproportionately affect black students and transfer students.” The education reform organization Education Trust also criticized the cuts, saying that they “will hit some of America’s most disadvantaged college students the hardest.”
At the same time that Republicans so adamantly opposed a surtax on income in excess of $1 million that Democrats ultimately dropped it from the negotiations, it’s disheartening that one of the few things the two parties could agree on was cutting a program that is key to America’s education competitiveness.