As the United States moves dangerously close to a default, Congressional Republicans look to go after several of the Biden Administration’s educational priorities. The House GOP Debt Bill, the text of which was released April 20th ahead of negotiations with President Biden, proposes significant cuts to federal funding for educational programs namely President Joe Biden’s Student Loan Relief program. The program is currently paused awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on if U.S. Department of Education granting federal student loan relief up to $20,000 for borrowers that make under $125,000 via the 2003 HEROES Act is constitutional. The GOP Debt Relief bill would stall the Student Loan Relief plan before the Supreme Court’s decision.
The bill also goes after Pell Grant funding. The Department of Education released a fact-sheet on April 25th highlighting how the GOP proposal of cutting educational programs by 22% would affect several functions of the department. The GOP bill would eliminate mandatory funding for Pell Grants, which means that the funding could change each year instead of staying stable like it is currently. This would also open up cuts to Pell Grant funding in the future. This move would affect African-American students, specifically those who attend HBCUs.
As we reported in August, UNCF reports that over 70% of HBCU students are Pell-Grant eligible, with black students making up 72% of Pell Grant recipients amongst all colleges. That number outpaces Asian students (36% of Pell Grant recipients) and white students (34%). The Pell Grant program, which is the largest federal student loan assistance program for undergraduate students offered by the US Department of Education, is a form of need-based financial aid that was established in the Higher Education Act of 1965. This legislation also established the designation of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for institutions of higher learning that were created before 1964 with the specific purpose of educating African-American students. The program was named after the chief sponsor of the legislation, Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island.
President Biden addressed the proposed cuts to federal funding for educational funding in the GOP Bill in a speech at UNY Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York saying, “Here in New York [the plan] would cut the maximum Pell Grant that millions of students use to get to community college by nearly $1,000. It would eliminate Pell Grants entirely for 5,000 students.”
The Biden Administration has made several steps to increase Pell Grant funding. The President’s proposed “American Families Plan” includes a Pell Grant expansion, including increasing funding by $1,400 and expanding eligibility to include more students such as eliminating restrictions that prevent incarcerated students from receiving Pell Grants, as well as expanding eligibility to include undocumented students who meet certain criteria. The Biden Administration has also worked to make it easier to apply for and receive Pell Grant funding by:
- Eliminating the FAFSA verification requirement: Under the Trump administration, some students who applied for Pell Grants were selected for verification, which required them to provide additional documentation to prove their eligibility for financial aid. The Biden administration has eliminated this requirement for most students, which has helped to simplify and streamline the application process.
- Simplifying the FAFSA form: The Biden administration has proposed simplifying the FAFSA form by reducing the number of questions and making it easier for students to transfer their tax information directly from the IRS.
- Increasing outreach and support: The Biden administration has also increased outreach and support to help students apply for Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid. This includes expanding the role of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) office in providing information and assistance to students and families, as well as partnering with community organizations and schools to help students navigate the application process.
The Department of Education’s Fact Sheet, linked here, has a comprehensive breakdown of how the GOP Debt Bill would affect education in all 50 states. The GOP Bill also proposes a massive cut in support for students with disabilities as well as cutting Title IV, Part A funding which allocates funding for mental health resources at educational institutions.
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