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Pell Grants cut looms in Congress

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 1/4/2012, 6:23 p.m.

A Republican-led proposal aims to cut $900 million out of the Pell Grant program, significantly impacting millions of Black college students who benefit from the grants.

The $900 million in cuts would mean dumping a million students from the program within the next five years. That means a lot of students could be kicked out before the end of this school year. The plan would also give less money to students who remain recipients of the award.

The congressional 2012 budget is under negotiation and must be voted on by next week to avoid a potential government shutdown. Critics say the debate is about funding priorities, and important programs like Pell will be cut unless enough members of Congress stand up to defend the program.

Black online political group Color of Change believes that elected officials should be working to expand opportunities for economic growth, not decimating higher education programs that help put low-income students and students of color in good jobs.

The group has collected 30,000 signatures to stop the cuts. Tuition and expenses at colleges continues to rise, making the Pell Grant program more needed than ever.

"Fifty percent of Black college students receive Pell Grants in some form," said Rashad Robinson of Color of Change. "To the extent that large numbers of Blacks are receiving support through this grant for further education, this is a critical bread-and-butter issue about ensuring we have quality access to education and that we are able to afford it."

Robinson added that some political leaders are blind to the impact that Pell Grant cuts would have on the Black community. The cuts would hit Black and low-income students the hardest. Nearly half of all Black undergraduates rely on Pell Grants to attend school, and families with incomes below $40,000 constitute 90 percent of awardees. Republicans have allegedly used racially charged language as part of their attack on the program, with one congressman calling it "the welfare of the 21st century."

"For us, the end goal is about protecting Pell Grants," Robinson said. "The end goal is, how do we shift the culture about education in this country and work to make it a right rather than a privilege? It's not about the haves having access to education, but everyone having education."