On November 15th, it is expected that Members of Congress will return to DC to address unfinished legislation before adjourning for the year. Several items of note are likely to considered, including additional funding to fill a shortfall in the Pell grant program. The anticipated $5.7 billion shortfall was created by increased student eligibility for the program. Without funds to close the shortfall, 9 million Pell recipients could see a 15% reduction in their awards at the beginning of next school year. However, the popularity of the Pell grant program has many on the Hill expecting the shortfall to be addressed before cuts to student awards are necessitated. What remains uncertain is exactly how and when the problem will be dealt with. Several efforts to fill the hole in the Pell grant program, by attaching provisions to larger pieces of legislation, have come up short this past year.
Aides to the current congressional leadership have indicated a desire to address the Pell grant shortfall during the post-election “lame duck” session. The session is likely to be devoted largely to completing the spending bills for FY11, of which Pell is a component. However, it’s possible that the spending bills could be tabled until a new Congress is seated in January. The House and Senate that begin work in January are likely to be significantly more inclined to hold or reduce spending levels, so the endgame for the FY11 appropriations process and Pell remain far from clear at this time.