Pell Grants Are “The Welfare of the 21st Century” Says Rep. Rehberg


Negotiations about raising the federal debt ceiling are in a state of stasis and some conservative House freshmen have singled out funding for low-income college students as a target of their ire. Asserting that, as Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD.) puts it, they “really don’t understand why we’re increasing spending in a bill supposed to be cutting spending,” some House Republicans are balking at House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling plan because it would appropriate $9 billion for Pell Grants for low-income college students in 2012 and another $8 billion in 2013.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has compared Pell Grants to “welfare” according to The Hill:

“So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century,” Rehberg told Blog Talk Radio in April. “You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.”

Rehberg suggests that, give students their maximum $5,550 in Pell Grants, and they’ll just go on living the easy life thanks also to food stamps, “free” housing and the like — they will just go on and be “welfare students.” It’s rhetoric that insults the reality of why students apply for, and need, Pell Grants, because they’ve worked hard in the face of huge challenges (including, like many of my students, attending poor urban high schools in crime-ridden areas) just to get to college; because they don’t want to live on food stamps or in subsidized housing; because they want to help support younger siblings and their families; because they want to be educated and make their contribution to the economy and their country.

If Congress can’t agree about how to raise the debt ceiling, student-aid programs will be, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, “in limbo.” If the government defaults on its debt, it will be unable to pay out benefits like Pell Grants and other student loans. Without these grants, students will be left hanging right around the time they’re getting ready to go back to school. Colleges and universities have cut-off days (August 19 at my school) to pay tuition if students want to enroll for the fall semester and not face late fees. If federal aid is delayed in the budget morass, students could face losing the chance to enroll in fall classes period — meaning that they’ll take longer to graduate and have to figure out financing for this.

There’s a trickle-down effect to cutting off federal funding for students. Colleges and universities can’t predict enrollment, leaving their own budgets in limbo. My own college is currently having some budgetary distress due to lower-than-estimated freshman enrollment. We’re a private, Jesuit, nonprofit four-year college. In tight economic times, it’s no surprise that, whatever the benefits a small college with a social justice ethos may offer, students choose to attend larger public universities, with lower tuition and other costs.

Are you a college student receiving a Pell Grant, or does your child have one? What are your options if the US defaults and you don’t receive the grant?

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Photo by Oxfam America


Author Paris D.
Author Paris D.5 years ago

No Linda the U.S is broke because of greed and poor planning. They put money into the wrong things and support states who ship jobs overseas. In addition taking away pell from needy students is most certainly not going to help the economy because most employers want a college degree, so you force willing students to find other aid while they work at fast food places because they no longer can afford their schooling.
This affects African Americans at an alarming rate but we forget the the blood, sweat, and tear of the slaves built this county. Of course we will turn a blind eye to that because most will say " this is the land of opportunity" yeah if you've got money to start, but if you dare try to make a decent living and live the "American Dream" you will be penalized because your parents weren't born with money and you need a little help. Capitalist Capitilize on Crazy Critisims!

Dianne Robertson
Dianne Robertson6 years ago

Anyone who actually believes that college students are living the high life on $5,500 in Pell Grant money obviously went to school on Daddy's dime.A Pell Grant combined with a student loan will pay for TUITION. Food stamps will HELP feed you.Section 8 gets you LOWER cost housing. Energy assistance is just that--assistance.Since America's future depends on EDUCATED citizens it would be in our best intrest to make college available to every student who would like to go. LOOK how much better off this congressman would have been had he had an education. Perhaps he should apply for a Pell Grant and check things out around the campus.

Linda H.
Linda h6 years ago

Thankfully the Pell grants were saved. There are some cuts for Grad students but not completely.
Mark I'm very sorry you know these people I think they took advantage of your good nature. I still think the country benefits by having an educated populace. When I see how many kids drop out of High School that worries me a lot more.

Lillie R.
Lillie Ruby6 years ago

In response to Bernadette P's comments:
“All we're teaching people is that some people don't have to work hard and that they can expect gov't handouts. YOU DONT KNOW what poverty is unless you go to ASIA!”

So what about that is right? You are suggesting we be like India and Asia, ignoring the masses of underprivileged people? I imagine that's why they are so far ahead, because they ignore their masses-we don't leave people lying around half-dead in the streets.

Call me a foolish idealist, but I'd like to think America was founded on different principles. We have a responsibility to adhere to those principles. It may mean paying closer attention to how and where the money is going at both ends of economic class, but that's what working for a better life is all about. It's about reaching down and lifting people up.

And there's huge economic advantage to Pell Grants - even if you don't buy my idealism - they eventually propel people into decent paying tax brackets.

Lillie R.
Lillie Ruby6 years ago

OK, I'm seeing Mark J.'s frustration now. Sorry, really needed to get the whole story. I'm personally frustrated that money doesn't go as far as it used to and was ready to applaud the woman for buying a big screen TV - as if her purchase was a rare occurrence.

As a person whose house is designed in early "sh*t-I-dragged-off the street", it gets frustrating not buying anything new. We are definitely one of those middle-middle class families that is no longer driving the economy.

I live in a poor city neighborhood. The kids are skinny with bad teeth. People are always sweeping by to dig bottles out of the trash. I imagine someone's living off some goverment dole but they sure don't have and probably will never have particularly good lives. Pell grants offer too great an opportunity to climb out.

The question is, how prevalent is the problem Mark J. describes. Are the number of these instances equal to whatever number of instances there are of people slipping huge amounts of money through tax loopholes. I'm not saying one or the other is more wrong. I'm just saying there's fraud possibility at every level. As an American it's fine to be enraged by both.

Carole Cherne
Carole Cherne6 years ago

How dare people who weren't born into wealthy families aspire an education! These crazy people truly seem to promote that belief. This is still America, people!

Debra Judd-Ehrhardt
Debra J6 years ago

Pell Grants have helped all of my children who went to college, and we are thankful for the help. As for free housing, food stamps, and energy assistance, etc. most students do not qualify for that, nor receive it. All of my children work and go to school. We help where we can, but they still will have student loans coming due when they graduate. And that is a racket if there ever was one. On major loan that one of my sons has, compounds interest daily. It is worse than credit card debt! -- to take away a grant that helps these students out? I think the politicians need to stop posturing and start seriously checking the validity of their facts,.

Bernadette P.
Berny p6 years ago

All we're teaching people is that some people don't have to work hard and that they can expect gov't handouts.

And if you think that socialisme is better....go and live in Asia and you will find out that most country do not even pay for primary schools....China started to pay for their primary schools about 5 years ago and STILL NOW NOT everywhere....

YOU DONT KNOW what poverty is unless you go to ASIA!

Robin C.
Robin C.6 years ago

Just because you are poor, doesn't mean you are stupid and lazy. I am sure some people abuse Pell grants just like every other program but educating the population is the best way to raise our country's socioeconomic status. I came from a family that could not have afforded to pay for my education. Through federally-funded grants, scholarships and with student loans, I completed my bachelor's degree and medical school. I am now a pediatric subspecialty physician and for a period of time was the only physician in my specialty within over a 100 mile radius and I live in Florida not in some rural area with a very small population. It is a pretty good bet that I would not have attained this level of education and professional achievement without the assistance I received through federally funded grants. Now I am the one in the high tax bracket. I think many of our elected officials are just complete imbeciles. Cuts may need to be made but cutting funds for higher education is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Debra Van Way
Debra Van Way6 years ago

My niece and nephew both got small Pell grants. Their family income is low but no one ever applied for food stamps or other handouts, etc. They both worked their way through college, earned small scholarships thru FFA, sports, etc. They volunteered for a lot of charities as a way to "pay back" the small Pell grants and both graduated at the top of their class. They paid off their student loans themselves. My nephew is a park ranger and my niece works on a horse ranch as a ranch hand caring for the horses. They both continue doing charity work as well. Got to love rich know nothing so called representatives. Heaven forbid the lower or middle class child have a stab at a decent self supporting future.