An Open Letter to Chairman Paul Ryan Concerning Cutting Funding to Pell Grants

Chairman Ryan:

In February, under the leadership of Speaker John Boehner, the House voted to decrease the maximum per-student Pell Grant allowance by $845. This would have been extremely detrimental to many college students. Fortunately, Pell Grants were generally saved in the 11th hour budget deal, “The White House protected…the maximum Pell grant of $5,550.” However, in the budget deal, Congress cut into Pell grant funding and removed students’ ability for federal aid in the summer. Under your chairmanship of the Budget Committee, this is just the beginning of the threat to decreased federal financial aid for students, our future leaders.

Recently I studied your “Path to Prosperity” budget plan for the fiscal year 2012. Needless to say, I was not pleased with what I found. With student debt at an all time high, rising tuition costs, and more students relying on Pell Grants than ever, why do you think it is necessary to significantly cut this necessary program?

You charge that Pell grant eligibility was “recklessly expanded” 139% over the last 4 years and recipients have increased by 69%.  I strongly disagree this is “far beyond our means to pay for them and endangering the viability of the program for the truly needed.” If you have not noticed, debt from college is at an all time high for students and makes up for $1 trillion. There is a clear and growing need to sustain the Pell grant program, not cut it, which would hurt many students across the country.

Cutting Pell grants is risky business, especially when you wrongfully blame the “reckless expansion” on rising tuition at private universities, like Georgetown. Less than 10% of private universities receive Pell grant funding. Sandy Baum, a senior policy analyst at the College Board, says there is no convincing evidence that increases in Pell grants (which has been widespread over the last decade) is connected to increases in tuition. Furthermore, she claims, “Increases in federal grant funding for low- and moderate-income students are critical to assuring educational opportunities for students with the most limited ability to pay and critical to the future of our economy.”

This year, student debt will top $1 trillion. Despite this, you propose cutting the Pell Grant program, which has not been able to keep up with the number of students who qualify for federal aid. On the House proposal, Mark Kantrowitz said, “This proposal will cause more than a million students to lose edibility for the Pell Grant. Every $100 change in the maximum Pell Grant currently corresponds to about 200,000 recipients. The proposed cut in the maximum Pell Grant would mean that 1.7 million low-income students would no longer qualify for the Pell Grant, almost a fifth of current recipients. The remaining recipients would have their Pell Grants cut severely.”

At Georgetown, Pell Grants are extremely important to our student body. Cutting the Pell Grant program, clearly necessary and important, is unacceptable. As tuition costs rise, we should be looking at increasing aid rather than decreasing it.  Our generation understands the importance of fiscal responsibility and the danger of reducing the federal budget deficit. However, doing so on the backs of our nation’s future leaders are, put plainly, irresponsible. I urge you to back down on your insistence to cut the Pell grant program.

Facts on Pell Grants:

  • Federal Pell grants provide need-based grants to low income undergraduate students to promote access to post-secondary education.
  • Grants are dependent on estimated family contribution, cost of attendance, enrollment status, and the duration of academic attendance.
  • Federal Pell Grants do not have to be repaid like loans.
  • The maximum Pell grant for the 2010-11 award year is $5,550.
  • Pell Grants are considered foundational financial aid to which other federal and nonfederal sources might be added.
  • Pell Grants were created through the Higher Education Act of 1965.
  • [Federal Student Aid, Federal Pell Grant, accessed 4/8/11]

3 Comments on "An Open Letter to Chairman Paul Ryan Concerning Cutting Funding to Pell Grants"

  1. Doug Renteria | May 21, 2012 at 12:31 pm |

    These letters from Georgetown (and the more recent letter from Marquette) would suggest that if the budget of the federal government, and the state budgets generally, don’t provide a means of support for “underserved” individuals then the people who propose those budgets (and vote for them) are going a great disservice to the country and are acting in ways that violate a central tenant of the Catholic Church.

    These letters argue that the teachings of the Catholic Church can’t be used to support some defined budgets cuts. Frankly, I just don’t see it.

    According to the Georgetown letter: “As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.” How is this so? In fact, I would have thought that the Catholic Bishops would argue just the opposite.

    Why? Because I don’t think that any person, Catholic or not, can absolve themselves of looking after their brothers and sisters simply by saying, “I gave at the office.” And essentially, by arguing that tax revenues are a legitimate means of looking after the less fortunate, and by arguing that it is “unjust” if future budgets cut essential services to poor persons, then people can absolve themselves of responsibility by simply paying taxes.

    The letter states that budget cuts “will be devastating to poor person”. That is only true if you under estimate the generosity of the American people. That is only true if you assume that Americans are so cold and callous that we do not look out for others in our communicities. That is true if you assume that the only way to help those in need is another government program. In my view, the whole problem with the welfare state is that it provides a mechanism for people to do nothing to help the less fortunate. That is why Vice President Biden, a supposed practicing Catholic, can donate an insignificant sum to charity and still think that he is doing Christ’s work. I don’t think that’s what Jesus wanted us to do. I would much prefer a society where there are no government welfare rolls but that each of us as citizens takes care of our own in our own communities.

    The American people are a very giving people, but the politicians (while saying they recognize the overwhelming generosity of Americans) don’t seem to trust that we Americans will follow through. On the same note, forcing a person to support the poor (through the tax system) does nothing for the giver/tax payer. In fact there is no stake for the taxpayer in making an effort to make his or her world a better place. Without a welfare state, if a person decides not to help the poor then that is between him and God. And if no one wants to participate then we will have been identified as one of the least giving nations on earth as opposed to what I think we are (one of the most giving).

    If nothing else I would like to find out how giving we are as a people and then work to make the country better. Count me as one who does not want to “give at the office”.

  2. Jake eloquently said! You have powerfuly defined the differences that seperate the Republican right wing rant vs the sane and compassionate thinking of those of us who still understand what this country should be about.

  3. Jake Neubauer | April 7, 2012 at 8:17 am |

    Chairman Ryan, I am a product of the expanded Pell Grant System. I finished school in four years because of the expansion of Pell Grants to summer semesters. I came from nothing, neither of my parents finished high school and now I have a BS in Chemistry and work as a laboratory manager for a lubricants and automotive chemicals manufacturer. I want to make it abundantly clear that with your Path to Prosperity, you would happily saddle me with $20,000 more in student debt – personal debt that would follow me for decades – to protect defense contractors and the military industrial complex. I would like you to read a quote from probably the only decent Republican this country has seen in national politics since the party’s long march from the center towards the radical right wing. Towards neo-conservatism, social darwinism, and enormous government intervention into personal liberty:

    ‎”Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?”
    -Dwight D. Eisenhower

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