In this age of fiscal uncertainty, few are immune from the government’s growing commitment to fiscal restraint. USF students could be hit next if Pell grants get cut. The federal debt-reduction committee tasked with locating $1.2 trillion in cuts and possible revenue increases to the federal budget over the next decade may shrink the government assistance program that has served as a vital source of financial aid for many at USF. The need based grants can total up to $5,550 per semester, and in assisting almost 30% of USF students with their tuition costs, it is the largest source of financial assistance for USF students.
To inform students of the potential danger to the program, Provost and Vice President of Academic affairs Jennifer Turpin sent an email out two weeks ago asking supporters to sign a petition to block any cuts to the program. The petition is being supported by lobbying organizations such as the Student Aid Alliance, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and 61 other higher education associations. The petition has drawn 48,661 supporters as of Saturday.
Asked what he thought of the possible cuts, USF Junior Raffi Bezdikian said it was unfortunate that the U.S. government would “rather drop bombs on people … than invest in our future by educating the public.”
It is unclear how much of an effect such efforts will have in swaying the committee in favor of a particular outcome. Various advocacy organizations have undertaken assiduous campaigns to influence the committee’s outcome with little success. From its conception, the committee’s proceedings have held behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny.
Legislators have attempted to exert their influence as well. Last month, Minnesota Representative John Kline made his case for cuts to Pell grants, which he described as “on a path to bankruptcy.” Kline then went on to back the Labor, Health and Human Services budget cutting bill passed by House Republicans.
That bill would decrease the Pell Grant eligibility period from 9 to 6 years. It would also eliminate eligibility for students who attend school part-time. The changes are projected to produce almost $3.6 billion in savings to the national budget.
In last year’s debt-ceiling budget agreement, the federal government promised $7 billion in additional appropriations for the program, an amount that according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid administrators still won’t make up for a $1.3 billion shortfall in 2012-13.
Democrats have long protected the program instituted under President Lyndon Johnson’s as part of his Great Society initiative, but their priority may now be focused on protecting costly entitlement programs that have come under increasing attack from Republicans.
Many have predicted that the negotiations will end in a deadlock, as most recent budget battles have. More than a few of the committee’s members are staunch advocates of their party’s most recalcitrant positions, making meaningful compromise unlikely. Any such deal would require substantial concessions on either side of the aisle.
Financial aid is available to USF students in other forms besides Pell grants, including school funded scholarships and grants from the state.
Even so, “student aid has already lost $30 billion paying down the deficit in prior Reconciliation bills and the Budget Control Act,” cited Ms. Turpin in her letter.
The fiscal solvency of the state is also in question, imperiling some of the state’s programs like Cal Grants.
If the super committee fails to find $1.2 trillion on cuts, automatic cuts of $600 billion to both defense and entitlement spending would kick in, possibly exempting the financial aid program.
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