Senate Democrats urge Trump to increase Pell Grants for college students

Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Trump last week, asking him to expand the Pell Grant program beginning in FY 2017 to make college more affordable for American families.

“As the new congress and administration work together to complete the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations process, we ask for your support for strengthening mandatory and discretionary funding for the maximum Pell Grant, restoring access for year-round studies, and protecting Pell surplus funds,” the letter said.

The Pell Grant program awards financial aid to qualified undergraduate students, which, unlike student loans, do not need to be paid back. Last year, more than 7 million students nationwide received more than $28 billion that was available in Pell Grants. 

The maximum grant for the current school year is $5,815. The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted last year to increase the maximum grant to $5,935. They also restored access to the traditional two semesters per year as well as year-round. 

“Pell Grants are a key source of funding for students who have the talent but not the financial means to go to college. This program is vital to maintaining a highly-educated workforce and keeping college affordable for millions of working families,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), one of the signees of the letter, said. “We must ensure that these grants keep up with the rising cost of college, so this generation can continue to compete in the global economy.”

In the first few years of the program, Pell Grants paid for the entire cost of tuition at public universities, but today, due to rapidly increasing tuitions, its purchasing power has been eroded, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said.

“It’s time President Trump renews the noble vision of the late senator from Rhode Island by giving the children of hardworking families a fair shot at a college education, which is still the best ticket to the middle class in America,” Whitehouse said.

Other Senators who signed the letter include Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward Markey (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Angus King (I-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).