Democratic Senator Ben Nelson May Oppose Stimulus Package Because Of Pell Grant Funding

College students sought financial aid in record numbers last year, leading even Bush administration officials to call for an increase in Pell Grant funding — “the most important form of aid to needy students.”

Yet Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is arguing against the House version of the economic recovery package because of its funding for Pell Grants. Nelson says he wants to eliminate “non-stimulative” and non-“job creation” items in the bill:

Even some Democrats are speaking out against including popular programs — such as an almost $15 billion increase in funding for Pell grants for higher education — in legislation that is supposed to spark an economic recovery. “You don’t want to be against Pell grants,” said Sen. Ben. Nelson (D-Neb.). “But the question is: How many people go to work on Pell grants?”

Increasing Pell Grant funding is a key way to preserve jobs in this tough economy. As grant recipients pay tuition and buy books, college faculty and staff will stay employed at a time when the education sector is experiencing widespread job cuts.


And with unemployment rising, Pell Grants provide workers with greater access to higher education — boosting their prospects for gaining employment. CAP’s Will Straw notes:

Improving the skills of unemployed American workers and providing funds to allow lower-income students to work their way through college would provide a boost to the economy and improve the workforce skills needed when businesses begin to hire again as the economy improves.

Furthermore, because the recession has forced colleges to raise tuition and cut aid, students receiving Pell Grants will quickly spend their loans, providing a short-term stimulus to the economy. In the long-term, increasing access to higher education is an investment that will help alleviate a human capital-starved economy.

Although Nelson has championed Pell Grant funding in the past, he is echoing right-wing talking points in labeling parts of the bill as “non-stimulative.” Putting off the Pell Grant shortfall for a later date is something the economy cannot afford.


Mike Connery has more on Nelson and higher education.


,Campus Progress has launched a take action campaign on higher education funding.