Year-Round Grants First Step in Strengthening Pell

June 7, 2016

By Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy 

Today, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee introduced a bipartisan appropriations bill for the first time in seven years. The lawmakers had $270 million less to work with than last year, and $2 billion less than President Obama’s budget proposal. But they still managed to address a key National College Access Network priority: returning funding to the year-round Pell, allowing almost 1 million students to access a full calendar year worth of funding each year and thereby enroll continuously.

NCAN is thrilled that the LHHS (Labor-Health and Human Services-Education) subcommittee recognizes the importance of year-round Pell and encourages the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to make this program more permanent in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

If the full Senate and House of Representatives agree to the plan, restoring the year-round Pell Grant through the appropriations process will give students access to the funds for the 2017-18 academic year. But the program’s long-term sustainability should be a concern for student advocates.

The Pell Grant program had a surplus this year of $7.8 billion, but $1.2 billion of the surplus will be rescinded and moved into the National Institutes of Health budget. The year-round Pell Grant costs approximately $1.4 billion, according to President Barack Obama's budget estimate, further reducing the surplus to $5.2 billion. If the appropriations process keeps removing money from the surplus in future funding cycles, the program will reach a shortfall earlier than anticipated.

The National College Access Network applauds the appropriations subcommittee for this short-term victory for students. NCAN also encourages Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, the leaders of the HELP Committee who also sit on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, to strengthen the Pell Grant program even further through Higher Education Act reauthorization, so students can attend school year-round and know that their Pell Grant will continue to increase annually -- as does the cost of college.

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