Democrat pushes for stronger Pell Grants

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats, poised for filibuster defeat, pick at old wounds  Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema Dems worry they'll be boxed out without changes to filibuster, voting rules  MORE (D-Hawaii) is rolling out a package of proposals Wednesday, pushing for Congress to expand and bolster Pell Grants.

Hirono's proposal, comprised of four pieces of legislation, would let students use Pell Grants for three semesters, compared to the current two, and increase the Pell Grant maximum for the 2014-2015 school year from $5,730 to $9,139.


Hirono suggested her proposals could help protect Pell Grants, which she said “are under the constant threat of irresponsible cuts and dismantlement” with Republicans in control of Congress.

“Under the Republican majorities in Congress, Pell Grants are under the constant threat of irresponsible cuts and dismantlement — even though college today is more expensive than ever,” the Hawaii Democrat said in a statement to The Hill. “Investing in education is one of the smartest investments we can make, and students deserve to know they can count on Pell Grants to help pay for college, regardless of their schedules, work, or family commitments.”

Hirono’s package would also include Pell Grants as part of mandatory spending and allow “Dreamers,” immigrants who came to the country as children and went to a U.S. high school, access to federal aid including the Pell Grant and work-study programs.

The Hawaii Democrat’s package is comprised of four pieces of legislation: the Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act, the Pell Grant Cost of Tuition Adjustment Act, the Pell Grant Protection Act and the College Options for Dreamers Act.

She added her proposal would create a "pathway for those fighting to get into the middle class" and help ensure students have "a fair shot at affordable higher education." 

More than a dozen national education groups have already backed the senator's plan.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said if passed, the legislation “will increase the number of low-income and first-generation students able to earn a college degree.”

Meanwhile, Walter Bumphus, the CEO of American Association of Community Colleges, said that the legislation “would dramatically strengthen and improve the program for community college students, and we hope that it can be adopted."

The same group of proposals is also being introduced in the House Wednesday by Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas).

Hinojosa said the provision expanding federal aid programs to Dreamers is “one of the most important aspects” of the legislation.

“They are being denied even though, through no fault of their own, they were brought into the United States illegally when they were young children,” he said in a statement. “We must do right by all of our residents who want to better themselves and who want to contribute to this country.”

During the Senate’s budget “vote-a-rama” late last month, senators approved an amendment by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would reinstate the year-round Pell Grant. That vote, however, was nonbinding.