Senate Hikes Pell Grant Benefits for Fiscal Year 2015


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Many people with student debt to pay down took one on the chin Wednesday when the Senate nixed a bill that would have allowed borrowers paying more than the current 3.85% for Stafford loans to refinance their their student loans at this lower rate.

But if you're looking for Pell money, the Senate did you a solid on Tuesday when it increased the maximum Pell grant by $100 to $5,830 for the fiscal year 2015, which begins October 1.

Earlier this month, House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called for big cuts to Pell grants and student loans in his 2015 fiscal year budget. It was shot down in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority.

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The Senate measure would increase spending on federal work-study by $35-million over the 2014 budget and President Obama's plan, and would kick in $15 million more for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.

It would also provide $8.4 million more for the TRIO program, which prepares disadvantage youths for college and $3 million more for the Gear Up program, which is designed for a similar purpose. Colleges with a significant number of minority students would receive $8.7 million more than they did in 2014. Historically black colleges and universities get added $3.7 million. Schools with a significant Hispanic student body will get $1.6 million more.

Work on the mark-up of the Senate bill, as the drafting process is known inside the Beltway, was a swan song of sorts for Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who has led the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education for 25 years and is leaving the Senate this year. It is the last piece of legislation Harkin is expected to have a hand in drafting. Harkin called it a "good bill with bipartisan priorities."


Republicans generally lauded Harkin's leadership, but Richard Shelby, a Republican Senator from Alabama, refused to support the Harkin measure, because it provides funds for health insurance exchanges under Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act. In his interview with Tumblr founder David Karp this week, Obama seemed to conflate student loans with health care, saying that the high cost of the latter influenced student borrowing--as though having health insurance would obviate the need for student loans.

The Pell grant measure now goes to the full Appropriations Committee and then to the floor of the Senate. It's expected to pass but will have to be reconciled with the House of Representatives' version, which still a work in progress.

--Written by John Sandman for MainStreet

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