East Hawaii News

Legislative Bills Aim to Protect Pell Grant

April 22, 2015, 11:16 AM HST
* Updated April 22, 11:17 AM
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Senator Mazie Hirono plans to roll out a comprehensive plan Wednesday to protect and expand the Pell Grant program.

The plan is made up of four legislative bills that would assist in protecting and expanding the program for the over eight million students throughout the country, including more than 23,000 students in Hawai’i, who use Pell Grants to make furthering their education more affordable.

Despite the recent attempts to make cuts to the grant program, Hirono’s legislative bills aim to expand and protect them.

According to Hirono, the grants have been putting higher education in reach for student who have low-income backgrounds. She says the grant program has transformed lives by giving students the economic assistance they needed to reach their full potential and earn a college degree.

“Earning a college degree can be a pathway for those fighting to get into the middle class. Unfortunately, under the Republican majorities in Congress, Pell Grants are under the constant threat of irresponsible cuts and dismantlement—even though college today is more expensive than ever,” said Senator Hirono. “Investing in education is one of the smartest investments we can make and students deserve to know they can count on Pell Grants to help pay for college, regardless of their schedules, work, or family commitments. My plan to protect and strengthen Pell Grants will go a long way to ensure every student in Hawaii and across the country has a fair shot at affordable higher education.”

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The four legislative bills include:

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Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act: The Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act would let students use Pell Grants for three semesters each academic year, rather than the current law’s limit of two semesters. Before Congress cut Year-Round Pell Grants in 2011, over one million students across the country, including over 1,600 in Hawaii, used Pell Grants to pay for college for three semesters in an academic year. Research shows that students who take courses continuously over the summer were three times more likely to complete a degree.  The bill is cosponsored by Senators Ed Markey and Jack Reed.

Pell Grant Cost of Tuition Adjustment Act: The Pell Grant Cost of Tuition Adjustment Act would increase the maximum Pell Grant for the 2014-2015 school year from $5,730 under current law to $9,139, the same as the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a four-year college. The bill would also index future amounts to inflation using the same formula Social Security uses for its annual cost of living adjustment. The bill is cosponsored by Senator Ed Markey.

Pell Grant Protection Act: The Pell Grant Protection Act would fund Pell Grants by mandatory spending, just like Social Security. Currently, Congress is forced to decide the level of Pell Grants each year and funds Pell Grants through mostly discretionary spending and a small mandatory add-on. This bill would fund the entire Pell Grant program through mandatory spending. The bill is cosponsored by Senator Ed Markey.

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College Options for DREAMers Act: The College Options for DREAMers Act would let DREAMer students—who came to this country as children and attended U.S. high schools—access to the same Pell Grants, student loans, work-study, and other federal financial aid that other academically qualified Americans can access. In 2013, Sen. Hirono passed a version of this bill as an amendment to comprehensive immigration reform. The College Options for DREAMers Act is also cosponsored by Senator Dick Durbin, the original author of the DREAM Act.

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