On Monday, Congressional leaders failed to agree on a plan to balance the country’s budget. As a result, automatic cuts to federal programs are set to take place beginning in 2013. Student financial aid programs — including Pell Grants — will find their current funding levels in jeopardy unless government officials reach consensus on an alternate approach.
Kelly Field of The Chronicle of Higher Education clearly outlined the effects of Congress’s inaction on Monday. Ms. Field wrote:
Unless Congress finds a way around the process, the Education Department’s budget will be slashed by $3.54-billion in 2013, according to the Committee for Education Funding, an advocacy group.
While the Pell Grant program is exempt from cuts in the first year, the other student-aid programs will lose $134-million, reducing aid to at least 1.3 million students. Career, technical, and adult education will lose $136-million, affecting 1.4 million students, says the committee.
As Ms. Field noted, such cuts would come on top of this year’s sizable reductions in education spending, including the elimination of the year-round Pell Grant program, which enabled students to receive two grants a year.
And changes may not stop there. Ms. Field went on to mention a bill currently pending in the House, introduced by Representative Denny Rehberg, Republican of Montana. She wrote:
In September, the chairman of the House appropriations panel that oversees education proposed tightening eligibility for Pell Grants and ending or restricting aid to minority-serving institutions. The bill, which has not yet been voted on, would also do away with two vocational-rehabilitation programs and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, or Fipse. Senate Democrats would make no changes to Pell eligibility, but would end the interest subsidy on undergraduate student loans during the six-month grace period after a student graduates.
Mr. Rehberg’s bill, while keeping the maximum Pell grant steady at $5,550, would reduce spending on historically black institutions by 36 percent and on Hispanic-serving institutions by 83 percent.
Meanwhile, on the heels of the failed talks this week, The Times reported “the possibility of a new stage of negotiations in the full Congress,” which might result in avoiding the automatic cuts.