Besides increasing Pell Grants, the bill provides $1.5 billion to make it easier for student borrowers to repay their loans. Beginning in 2014, borrowers would be allowed to devote no more than 10 percent of their monthly income to repay student loans. The current cap is 15 percent.
Still, the legislation is not as generous as the bill the House passed last year. The bill had anticipated far more spending on community colleges and had called for increasing the Pell Grants each year by the consumer price index plus 1 percent. Democrats had to scrap the additional 1 percent increase.
Instead, the bill proposes no increases in Pell Grants over the next two years and a modest increase over the five years that follow. The maximum Pell Grant, which a House-passed bill last year would have raised to $6,900 over 10 years, now only will increase to $5,900. The current maximum grant for the coming school year is $5,500.
What’s more, a poor jobs market that has driven potential workers to colleges and technical schools has put a strain on the Pell Grant program. Of the $36 billion destined for Pell Grants, $13.5 billion would help fill a $19 billion Pell Grant shortfall.
Following Republican criticism, Democrats dropped a provision in the new bill that would have allowed the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to continue making federally financed student loans to students.
“That’s out, end of the story,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.