House Republicans propose $2.3 billion in cuts to Pell Grants

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed $2.3 billion in cuts to the budget of the Federal Pell Grant program for the fiscal year 2012, according to a budget proposal released Thursday.

The maximum Pell Grant would be kept at $5,500, but students who currently receive less than 10 percent of the maximum would receive nothing under the proposed budget.

A record number of UC Berkeley students benefited from federal Pell Grants in the 2010-11 academic year. An estimated 37 percent of undergraduates in 2008-09 are from families who earn $45,000 or less a year and are eligible to receive of Pell Grants, according to the UC Berkeley Student Profile website.

Congressman Jerry Lewis, the representative of California’s 41st District, is the ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee in the House, where the bill was proposed.

“The congressman is still absorbing exactly what it all means. It’s just a bill that has been put forward by the committee chair at this point,” said Jim Speck, spokesperson for Lewis.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the proposal for Hispanic-serving institutions — colleges and universities where total Hispanic enrollment constitutes at least 25 percent of the total enrollment — would be cut 83 percent, while historically black colleges would be dropped 36 percent.

Another group no longer eligible for benefits under the new plan would be those who attend college less than half-time. This clause, combined with a new restriction that would cap grant recipients at 12 semesters instead of the previous 18, would affect many community college students.

“It’s really a body blow, at least as proposed,” said David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research of the American Association of Community Colleges, in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.

Carolyn Henrich, legislative director of education at UC Washington Center, said she does not believe the bill will become law.

“It’s not going to pass,” she said. “They could use some of these changes in the long-run, but there are other bigger issues they are much farther apart on that will prevent it from passing.”