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D.C. insiders know that the congressional budget proposals don’t have the force of law. However, these proposals should not be summarily dismissed, as they set forth Republican priorities. And unfortunately, it looks like the Pell Grant program, which supports low- and moderate-income student access to higher education, made the wrong priority list; neither the House nor the Senate seem poised to protect the buying power of these grants.

Of the two proposals, the Republican House blueprint deals a much harder, direct blow to the Pell program. It freezes the maximum grant amount for 10 years and proposes more eligibility cuts (the 2011 budget agreement and 2012 omnibus already cut thousands of students from Pell eligibility rolls and reduced the amount many more received).

The Senate proposal does not specifically mention or offer any policy recommendations for the Pell program, but the lack of a directive to protect Pell almost assuredly places it on the chopping block. Similar to the House plan, the Senate Republican budget proposal maintains the non-discretionary spending sequester levels and, specifically, directs the education committee to find $1 billion in spending cuts. Because the Pell program is on a sustainable path, it is likely targeted for these cuts. (Since 2010 Pell Grant costs have declined and are projected to remain level over the next 10 years, after adjusting for inflation.)

College costs are too high, but this problem has nothing to do with the financial step stool that Pell Grants provide low- and moderate-income students and their families. The Pell program makes college possible and changes lives — millions of them. As House and Senate Republican leaders advance these proposals next week, they should make it a national priority to increase the purchasing power of these grants, rather than following the freeze-and-cut path they are presently headed down.

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