Lately, it has seemed like every year brings yet another funding crisis for the Pell Grant program. Not so this year.
Today the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its March baseline, which the agency will use to measure (i.e. “score”) the spending and revenue effects of any legislation Congress considers this year. The March baseline also establishes how much funding lawmakers will need to provide for Pell Grants in the fiscal year 2013 appropriations process to maintain the scheduled maximum grant of $5,645. The appropriations process will officially get underway this spring—although the hard deadline for Pell Grant funding is actually sometime early next year when Congress has to finalize funding for grants made in the 2013-14 school year.
In past years, the CBO March baseline estimates have been the harbingers of change to Pell Grant eligibility rules or shifts in funding from student loans to Pell Grants. Those March estimates showed big funding gaps that Congress needed to plug through upcoming appropriations if it wanted to maintain the maximum grant. In 2010, funding gaps developed because of enrollment growth and broader eligibility rules, but gaps in more recent years resulted from lawmakers’ attempts to fund the program with one-time supplemental funding that inevitably created a funding gap at the beginning of every new budget cycle. To fill those gaps, lawmakers have cut funding for student loan programs and moved it to Pell Grants and enacted a series of eligibility changes that allowed them to maintain the maximum grant with less funding.
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