• September 12, 2014

House Republicans' Spending Bill for Remainder of 2011 Would Cut Pell Grant by 15 Percent

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have unveiled a spending bill for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year that would slash $100-billion from the president's budget request.

The measure, which the House is expected to take up this week, would cut millions of dollars from federal support for research and student financial aid.

The student-aid reductions would trim the maximum Pell Grant by 15 percent, or $845, from the $5,550 available to the neediest students now, and make 1.7 million students ineligible for Pell Grants, according to Mark Kantrowitz, who publishes FinAid, a Web site that gives financial-aid advice. If enacted, the reductions would be the largest cut in student-aid funds in the history of the Pell Grant program.

The bill includes no earmarks—the noncompetitive grants that members of Congress direct to favored constituents, including universities—and would recall all earmarked funds that were awarded in stopgap spending measures for the current fiscal year.

The government is now operating on a short-term spending bill that maintains spending at 2010 levels and is set to expire on March 4. Many freshmen Republican members of the House ran on platforms that called for cutting spending, and the party promised to trim $100-billion from the budget as part of its "Pledge to America."

In a news release, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers, of Kentucky, said the bill represented 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."

But Richard T. Williams, a higher-education associate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said the Pell Grant cuts would hinder economic growth.

"Ensuring students can graduate into the work force should be one of the top priorities of Congress," he said. "However, the details of the proposed budget extension send the opposite message to students and families by cutting Pell Grant aid more than nine million students rely on to cross the college finish line and into the work force."

Deeper Cuts for Science Agencies

In its proposals for science agencies that support university research, the House Republicans' measure makes even deeper cuts than the version the committee issued earlier last week. The earlier proposal would have kept the National Institutes of Health at its 2010 level of $31-billion, and raised the National Science Foundation by 5.2 percent over its 2010 amount of $6.9-billion. The version issued Friday proposes bringing the NIH back to its 2008 level of about $29.4-billion and setting the NSF's budget $150-million below its 2010 level.

Many of the proposed cuts will run into opposition in the Senate, which remains under Democratic control.

The Republican spending bill in the House would finance the federal government through the end of September. President Obama will release on Monday his spending bill for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins October 1.

In his proposal, the president is expected to call for maintaining the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550, and pay for it by seeking cuts of $100-billion elsewhere in the federal student-aid programs over the next decade.

The savings proposals reportedly will include ending a "year round" provision that allows Pell Grant recipients to collect two grants in a single award year, with the second grant used for summer classes, and cutting the interest subsidies that the government now pays for graduate and professional students while they are still in college. Both of those changes would require Congressional approval.

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