Republicans Eye Cuts to Pell Grants to Gain Tea Party Votes

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Supporters of Pell Grants for low-income college students put out an urgent appeal to mobilize students to blitz their congressional representatives for a second day this week after news emerged that Tea Party members were blocking a debt ceiling/deficit compromise because of continued high-level funding for the grants.

There were numerous press reports Friday morning that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would sacrifice the Pell Grant money in order to gain support of some Tea Party Republicans so he could push his debt ceiling/deficit bill through the House.

The Education Trust, among the groups that organized “Save Pell” day on Monday, which resulted in more than a million tweets and almost 20,000 emails to President Barack Obama,  pressed for thousands more supporters to sign’s petition to Obama asking him to protect Pell Grants at their current maximum of $5,500.

Some members of the Tea Party have referred to the grants, which now support about 10 million college students, as “welfare.” The number of Pell recipients has grown by millions during the recession, but little additional funding is expected over the coming years. Unlike most other college financial aid, Pell Grants do not have to be repaid. Still, most Pell recipients must also borrow money to pay their college bills.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, released a statement today calling Pell grants the great equalizer – for millions of students, Pell is the reason they are able to go to college and get ahead.”

He said the Tea Party “has a chokehold on this Republican Congress, and now reports are that they’re going after low-income students. It’s a shameful excuse and an attack on middle class families.”

A total of about $35 billion in Pell grants is scheduled to be distributed this academic year. It is unclear if cuts to the Pell Grants will affect the amount of money students receive this year. The funds have not yet been distributed.