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Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, released today, offers up severe cuts ($791 billion over 10 years) to education and other non-defense programs, namely some of the financial assistance available to help students and families pay for college. Here are three reasons Ryan’s proposal is bad for Pell Grant recipients:

  • It would remove mandatory funding for Pell Grants, putting all of this critical program’s funding at the whim of Congress — which has had difficulty passing spending bills in the last several years — and requiring Congress to pull that money from a dramatically tighter purse. Beyond that, the proposal would expand the funding gap for Pell Grants to $149.7 billion, according to estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at the same time it argues to make the program more stable.
  • It suggests capping the maximum family income that makes a student eligible for a Pell Grant, regardless of family size or situation, and limiting the income at which a family qualifies for an “auto zero” (or the assumption that there will no expected family contribution). The latter proposal will throw unnecessarily regulatory roadblocks in front of poor students trying to obtain a postsecondary education. The former ignores that the current analysis for determining whether a student receives a Pell Grant is already targeted to the neediest students. This kind of cap would simply cut off students who, because of family circumstances, require assistance to afford college. The vast majority of students who receive Pell Grants currently come from families with incomes of $50,000 or less. Those with incomes higher than $50,000 are usually only eligible because the family is big (about half have five or more people in the family) and has more than one child in college (about 60 percent have two or more in college). In short, the students from these families need — and should receive — grant assistance to attend college.
  • It would freeze the Pell Grant award at its current award level of $5,730. There would be no increase whatsoever for the next 10 years. Pell Grants are already not large enough — they cover less than one-third of the cost of attending a four-year, public college. Freezing them will make them worth less in the coming years and further toughen the road faced by hard-working, low-income students trying to get a college degree.

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