May 22, 2019 | 66° F

US Congress proposes cuts to Pell Grant

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives released plans to cut millions in funding from the federal college financial aid grant, the Pell Grant.

The spending bill, planned for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, proposes to cut $845 from the maximum $5,500 Pell Grant.

Funding has been cut across the board in an attempt to pull back discretionary spending by 24 percent, according to a release from Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., House Appropriation Committee chairman.

"This legislation … is a massive down payment on the new Republican majority's commitment to drastically decrease discretionary funding in order to help our economy thrive and spur job creation," according to the release.

If enacted, the plans would take effect the following academic year, University Director of Financial Aid Jean McDonald-Rash said.

She said this could result in serious consequences for the approximately 14,000 students across the New Brunswick, Newark and Camden campuses that receive this grant.

New Jersey Public Interest Research Group advocate Rich Williams said because of the consistent spikes in college tuition, grants provide the best way the federal government can help students get their diploma.

If this change is implemented, 1.5 million students, out of the 9.2 million nationwide who currently receive the grant — could lose their funding, while the rest would see a 15 percent decrease in the amount awarded, Williams said.

McDonald-Rash said the House is looking to save money everywhere, but the program now does not have enough funds because of more recipients than previously expected.

"There's no question that something needs to be done about the level of spending in this country. However, we cannot cut in levels that are investments," Williams said.

He said this change would particularly affect those who receive the maximum award — the neediest students who are at the tipping point of whether they can afford school.

"Without that, it will be too difficult for them to pay for college," he said.

Many need-based college students might be forced to take on more debt, McDonald-Rash said.

"Students need to be careful in how much debt they can take on," she said. "So when you cut grant aid, what that does is create a gap that is filled by borrowing more."

She said students should not take on too much debt, as it is difficult finding employment after school and defaulting on a loan affects credit years later.

McDonald-Rash said affected students might also be forced to consider their options, such as commuting to school or working more.

Pell Grant recipient Chana Morrison said she would have to increase her work hours to compensate for the decrease in grant money, which she is not required to pay back, if this change passes.

"I work full time to pay for whatever tuition I have left over from grants and loans and scholarships," said Morrison, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "So for every little bit of money they take away from me, I have to work more."

Obama on Monday said in his budget proposal for the next fiscal year, which will start Oct. 1, that he plans to maintain Pell Grants but end the relatively newer ability to be awarded two in a year.

"It may not be the right step, but it's definitely the right starting point for maintaining the Pell Grants," Williams said.

Since the program is expecting a $20 billion shortfall next year, removing certain benefits from the award could create the savings needed to help maintain the program at its current level, but McDonald-Rash said this is not ideal.

"Neither [Obama's nor the House's plans] is the best, because the best thing would be to keep increasing to try to keep up with increases of costs of education in time," she said.

McDonald-Rash said students should stay active in advocating for more financial aid.

"Students [should] take an active role, let their opinions be heard and make their leaders know how important they are," she said.

Mary Diduch

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