Pell grant increase short of projection

Graphic by Joseph Lamberson

Graphic by Joseph Lamberson

By Andy Kwalwaser

A new federal budget will increase next year’s Pell grant awards, but not to the extent originally projected by the Education and Labor Committee.

The maximum grant value will increase to $4,731, up $421 from the current maximum award. Still, a budget struggle between the Appropriations Committee and the Education and Labor Committee caused the new grant to fall short of the $4,800 originally possible.

“At least we feel that the conversation has moved forward,” said Dan Mann, director of student financial aid. “It’s an increase from what they’ve got now.”

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, passed last December, limited the total funds available for distribution through Pell grants, a financial aid awarded to college students based on need.

“By having mandatory funding on one side, but discretionary funding on the other, there is no guarantee as to what the funding will be in a given year,” said Alexa Marrero, minority spokeswoman for the Education and Labor Committee. “While we had authorized an amount based on an estimate, the Appropriations Committee assigned less money than expected.”

Congress was unwilling to fully fund the higher grants initially authorized by the Education and Labor Committee. As a result, the total funds available for the grants fall considerably short of the new maximum.

“There was stuff that made it look like we would have multiple year increases, but that went right out the window,” Mann said. “This is a case where the intentions were good, but the funding was not there to support it.”

Last year more than $13 million in Pell grants was distributed to 4,726 University students. Not all students are eligible to receive the maximum grant, although the increases will affect all awards next year.

Pell grants are considered discretionary federal spending, meaning that the Appropriations Committee can negotiate its value each fiscal year to match the new budget.

Elana Schuster, senior in Communications and former Illini Media employee, has received a Pell grant in each of her four years at the University but was never sure what each year’s award would be.

“All I knew was I needed to fill out my (financial aid information) and pray really hard. I thought I would have to take out a few loans,” Schuster said.