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Proposed law from Gillibrand would up Pell Grant funding for low-income students

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

The Federal Pell Grant Program, overseen by the Department of Education, offers non-loan funding to students from low-income backgrounds attending college. The current maximum amount a student can receive for an academic year is $7,395, while the average cost of college for a first-time, full-time undergraduate is nearly $40,000 annually.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced Tuesday new proposed legislation that, over the next two years, would nearly double the maximum amount a student could receive from the program in an academic school year. According to Gillibrand, the Pell Grant covered the vast majority of expenses for a student at the program’s peak in the 1970s.

“Many families rely on the Pell Grant…serving more than 6 million students,” Gillibrand said.

“But more than 50 years after its inception, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant has reached an all-time low. In 1975, the Pell Grant covered, on average, nearly 80% of the cost of tuition fees, room, and board at a four-year college. Now it covers less than a third.”

Gillibrand said the new legislation would not only increase the maximum amount eligible, it would also expand the program to include more students. Currently, the amount a student receives depends on a range of academic parameters, including financial need, status as either a part-time or full-time student, and costs to attend school.

“My Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act would… make the program fully mandatory, protecting it from future funding shortfalls. And it would expand access to part-time students and those who need more time to complete their degree programs,” she said.

The new legislation would also allow low-income students who are enrolled in federal benefit programs like SNAP or Medicaid to automatically qualify for the maximum award, with an extra $1,500 award on top of the grant.

Eda Uzunlar (she/her) is a reporter for WSHU.