NAICU Washington Update

Congress Introduces Legislation to Double the Pell Grant

June 17, 2021

In response to calls to double the Pell Grant maximum by President Biden and the higher education community, Congress has taken the first step toward achieving that goal by introducing the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act of 2021. The bill includes a path to double the maximum Pell Grant over the next five years, as well as a number of significant changes to provided additional aid to exceptionally needy students.  

The chairs of both education committees in Congress, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, joined with Pell Grant champions Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) introduced the bill earlier this week (full bill language and fact sheet).   

The bill lays out a path for annual increases to the maximum grant from $7,970 in FY 2022, to $13,000 in FY 2027, with increases in subsequent years based on the Consumer Price Index. The current Pell Grant maximum is $6,495.  To pay for these increases, the bill proposes to transition the funding mechanism for the entire program to mandatory funding. This means annual funds would be guaranteed, as they are for such federal programs as Social Security, and not be subject to the annual appropriations process.  

To provide additional grant aid to exceptionally needy students, the bill includes a provision to provide the lowest income students with up to $1,500 additional dollars above the Pell Grant maximum if they either received federally means-tested benefits over the past 24 months, such as SNAP or Medicaid, or have a Student Aid Index (the new term for Expected Family Contribution) below zero.

Other important provisions in the bill include:
  • Changing the minimum Pell Grant from 10% of the Pell Grant maximum to 5%, thereby allowing more new students to receive grants. 
  • Extending the amount of time a student can benefit from a Pell Grant from 12 semesters to 18 semesters.
  • Granting DREAMers access to federal student aid.
  • Integrating the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant program into the Pell Program.
  • Creating a process for institutions of higher education to implement satisfactory academic progress policies (SAP) on their campus that better align with rules on federal aid.
NAICU has long advocated for the importance of Pell Grants and has boldly called for this program to be doubled by its 50th anniversary next June.  The Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act  shows a true commitment by leaders in both the House and Senate to double the maximum Pell Grant award to provide the necessary grant aid for students. Despite some unanswered questions regarding the new SAP provisions, NAICU has endorsed this bill and will continue to work with Congress to strengthen it as it moves through the legislative process.  Although this bill is a long way from enactment, having strong legislation introduced is a key step forward.  

Among the most important next steps will be garnering bi-partisan support for doubling Pell and engaging the national higher education community to advocate for Congress to double the grant.  NAICU is working with the higher education community to launch an advocacy campaign this summer.

Contact: Emmanual Guillory
Contact: Stephanie Giesecke

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