Proposed Spending Bill Would Cut Pell Grant Program By $3.3 Billion

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The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income students to help pay for college, but these students could soon have a more difficult time obtaining the financial assistance as a new legislative measure aims to cut funding for the program. 

The Pell Grant program stands to lose $3.3 billion under the fiscal year 2018 House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill set to be discussed today.

The 164-page draft bill [PDF], which would set funding for a number of programs handled by the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and other related agencies, would lower overall Education Department spending, but doesn’t go quite as far as the President’s budget proposal released in May.

Related: DeVos Education Budget Could Make It Harder To Obtain, Repay Student Loans

While the President’s proposal would have cut an estimated $9.2 billion from the Education Department’s budget, the appropriations bill takes a more conservative approach, cutting $2.4 billion.

Still, that doesn’t mean the Appropriations bill is anything to laud, according to consumer advocates, who say the proposed changes to the Pell Grant program could cause a burden for low- and middle-income students.

The bill would rescind $3.3 billion of the total $8.5 billion Pell surplus and freeze the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,920.

What’s It Mean?

The Institute for College Access & Success estimates [PDF] that cutting $3.3 billion from the program is the equivalent of the average Pell Grant award fro nearly 900,000 students.

Freezing the program’s maximum award — the first in six years — will decrease the value of the grant by at lest $165, as the grant will no longer keep up with inflation and the rising costs of college, TICAS notes.

“The current maximum Pell Grant covers the lowest share of college costs in over 40 years, and Pell Grant recipients are already more likely to borrow and have to borrow much more than their higher income peers to complete college,” Jessica Thompson, policy and research director for TICAS, said in a statement.

The proposed cut comes on top of the $1.3 billion the program already lost in the FY17 spending agreement.

“House appropriators should reject this assault on equitable access to higher education, which has never been more critical for securing a career and growing America’s economy,” Thompson said. “We urge Congress to instead keep all Pell funding in the Pell program, and make investments necessary to reverse the trend of the grant’s declining purchasing power.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ) said in a statement that the proposed bill “reflects Republican priorities” by cutting spending and focusing on “programs our people need the most.”

Did you use a Pell Grant to attend college? We’d like to hear your story: what was the process like? would you have been able to attend college otherwise? Share you story by emailing Consumerist at with the subject “Pell Grants.”

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