Given that both Representative Steve Daines and State Senator Ryan Zinke have expressed enthusiastic support for the Paul Ryan budget, with the former voting for it and the latter suggesting it doesn’t go far enough, it seems warranted to look at how the budget that both men support would affect the people of Montana.
Over the next few days, we’ll take a look past the abstract idea of the budget to the specific implementation here in Montana, starting with college affordability.
The Ryan-Daines-Zinke budget will cap Pell Grants at their current maximum for the next ten years:
Under the proposal, the maximum Pell Grant award would be frozen at the current $5,730 amount for the next 10 years. The budget would also leave all of the Pell Grant program’s funding up to the discretion of Congress each year, eliminating the mandatory funding stream that currently funds part of the program
Anyone with a passing familiarity about the cost of colleges knows that tutition and fees will certainly not be frozen over the next decade. In fact, between 2008-09 and 2013-14, tuition and fees at public four year colleges and universities increased by 27% over the rate of inflation. Freezing Pell Grant amounts will result in fewer students being able to afford to attend college.
In fact, according to Roger Riddell, the proposal will further reduce the value of Pell Grants, which have already seen a significant decline in the amount of college they pay for. He writes “Pell Grants, which once covered more than half of college costs for lower-income students and now cover about a third, would be frozen for the next decade and see around a 24% reduction by 2024.”
Despite claims that the cuts are to ensure that Pell Grants are only for the “truly needy,” the Ryan-Daines-Zinke cuts ignore the reality that Pell Grants are primarily awarded to students who come from families with low incomes. Stephen Steingleder explains:
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 74 percent of Pell Grant recipients have annual family incomes of $30,000 or less. Moreover, in 2011 Congress lowered the threshold from $30,000 to $23,000 for a student to automatically qualify for an “estimated family contribution” of zero dollars. That change makes it more difficult for low-income students to qualify for the maximum amount of financial aid
The cuts will be devastating for working class families, who will see the better future offered by further education become an even more unreachable goal. Back in 2011, when Representative Rehberg called Pell Grants “welfare,” 24,000 students in Montana received the awards, a number likely to be even higher today.
That Representative Daines and State Senator Zinke would support these devastating cuts is especially problematic, given the huge debt Montana students face after college right now. According to the Project on Student Debt, the average Montana student graduating a public university in the state leaves with $27,475 in debt, 18th highest in the country.
If you want to ensure economic opportunity for Montanans, the last thing prospective members of the Senate or House should do is to propose cutting the program that best gives those living in poverty a chance to get a college degree. That Mr. Zinke and Mr. Daines agree with Paul Ryan, that tax cuts for millionaires are more important than grants for students, demonstrates they just aren’t looking out for the people they pretend or hope to represent.