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Budget boosts Pell Grants, seeks ‘entitlement’

Sun., Jan. 31, 2010

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s budget blueprint would expand the Pell Grant program to nearly $35 billion in aid next year, an increase in the college funding program for low- and moderate-income families of more than 92 percent since he took office.

The increase would make the program available to an additional 1 million students and increase their maximum annual awards to $5,710 from $5,350, an administration official said late Friday.

When it is released Monday, the Obama budget also will propose making the Pell Grant an “entitlement” program like Medicare and Social Security. As an entitlement, anyone eligible would be guaranteed the full grant, and Congress would be obliged to fund the program for all who qualify. Obama signaled in his State of the Union address earlier this week that college affordability would be a key part of his 2011 budget, laying it out in a series of proposals that includes giving families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and requiring graduates to pay only 10 percent of their income on federal student loans.

The budget will also propose forgiving a student his or her debt after 20 years for most graduates, and after 10 years for those who choose a career in public service.

“In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college,” Obama said in one of the biggest bipartisan applause lines of the address.

The Pell Grant program began in 1973 and over time has become the cornerstone of aid to undergraduate students from needy families. But in recent decades, the program’s year-to-year growth has lagged far behind the growth in college costs.

Making the grant an entitlement would take some battling for the president on Capitol Hill. Obama proposed the idea last year, but Congress never took it up.

The president’s budget would make $34.8 billion in Pell Grant aid available, a 92 percent increase over the $16.6 billion appropriation of the 2008 fiscal year, in place when he took office.

The plan would benefit more than 8.7 million students, compared with 7.7 million now.


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