March 27, 2011

Hinchey Decries GOP Proposal to Reduce Pell Grant Funding

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At a press conference at Cornell’s Combined Heat and Power Plant on March 21, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) criticized House Republicans for proposed reductions to the Pell Grant program, which provides federal financial aid for college students. Continuing Resolution H.R. 1, the House Republicans’ budget proposal, would reduce the maximum Pell Grant award by $845 for millions of students and eliminate the college aid program altogether for an estimated 10,000 students nationwide, according to The Washington Post.“This would be a huge, huge mistake,” Hinchey said. “Education, as we all know, is the best investment we can make as a society, and I’m going to fight against these cuts and do everything I can to prevent them from taking place.” Proposed in February, H.R. 1 would eliminate $5.7 billion of funding for the Federal Pell Grant Program, which, according to Hinchey, is the largest source of federal need-based financial aid in the country for students pursuing college educations. Hinchey said that many students receiving Pell Grants are the first in their families to attend college.According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the program has accumulated a growing deficit in the past decade, with eight shortfalls from 2001 to 2010 and a projected shortfall of more than $20 billion by 2012. Rep. John Kline (R-M.N.), chairman of the House education and labor committee, told The Chronicle that Pell Grants are “on the path to bankruptcy,” and that “we need to make tough choices now to ensure this important program remains available for students who need it most.”Hinchey, however, said the cuts illustrate “the recklessness of the Republican spending plan.”“The average student debt was $23,000, and cutting Pell Grants would only increase that burden for 14,000 students and their families in the congressional district I represent, [as well as] … 9 million nationwide,” Hinchey said. “[The Republicans] want to keep tax cuts for billionaires and huge subsidies for oil companies, but they want to cut college aid for students in need at a time when tuition costs are rising.”If approved, the bill would also have an adverse effect on America’s already diminished education system, he said.“We were — at one point — the number one education community on this earth. Now, we’re about the 14th. There are a number of others that are getting ahead of us,” Hinchey said. In a 2010 study of 34 countries, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranked the U.S. 14th in reading skills, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics.“What is their motivation to try to make ordinary people less able to get the education that they need [not only] for themselves but also for the future of this country?” Hinchey said. “It’s amazing.” At Cornell, approximately 2,200 students currently receive Pell Grant funding — the most in the Ivy League, according to Thomas Keane, director of financial aid for scholarships and policy analysis. Because the proposed cut would affect financial aid beginning in the 2011-2012 academic year, the University would face $1.76 million worth of cuts in Pell Grants, which “may or may not be made up by the University,” Keane told The Sun earlier this month.In February, Keane told The Sun that these cuts could force the University to either increase “financial strain on students” or “cut University programs and renovation projects to offset increased financial aid costs.” At the moment, however, the University is postponing further discussion until the bill moves forward, Keane said.“We’re still waiting to take action until we see the legislation that gets passed into law,” he said. While debate in Washington, D.C., continues, H.R. 1 remains in the Senate awaiting vote.Pell Grant recipient Philip Kim ’14 said the cut would be unfair to students who rely on federal aid to afford tuition.“I can personally attest to how crucial it was that I was provided the funds,” Kim said. “Without it, I probably wouldn’t be at Cornell — and I strongly believe that if an individual is accepted into an institution, all efforts should be made so they can afford to attend. That $845 could be the difference between earning a college degree or living with just a high school diploma.”

Original Author: Akane Otani