by Andrew Donohue

The U.S. Senate approved a $520 billion spending package Wednesday, which President Clinton swiftly signed, raising the maximum Pell Grant by $125 per year and boosting the annual budget for medical research grants by $2 billion.
The bill passed through the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 65-29. The bill will increase educational spending, including raising the maximum Pell Grant from $3,000 to $3,125 for the 1999 fiscal year. Last year, Congress increased the amount from $2,700.
“In general, the bill is very positive for education,” said Phil Lewenstein, spokesman for the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office.
However, Lewenstein said, there is still room for improvement. Passed two weeks ago by Congress, the Higher Education Reauthorization Act established $4,500 as the maximum amount authorized for the grant.
“It is good that they are increasing it,” he said. “But it is unfortunate that it is still below the maximum.”
Lewenstein said at minimum an additional $2 billion would have been needed to reach the maximum.
An estimated 24,000 additional students will become eligible for Pell Grants in the 1999-2000 academic year, bringing the national total to 3.9 million students.
In 1997, 66,000 undergraduate students in Minnesota received Pell Grants. Throughout the University system, $11.8 million was dispersed among 8,046 students for the grant. The Twin Cities campus accounted for $8.7 million among 5,493 students.
The vote also approved a $2 billion boost for the National Institutes of Health funding, an almost 15 percent increase, raising the agency’s total budget to $15 billion.
The move increases the amount of federal funding available for highly competitive health science research grants. The University received $125 million in grants from the NIH for 1997.
“It is a very positive sign that the federal government has recognized the value of investing in research for the longtime well-being of the people,” said Christine Maziar, dean of the Graduate School and vice president for research.
In 1995, sanctions were placed against the University for the misuse of federal grant money. Maziar said this will not affect how much money the University receives from the NIH, but will require more paperwork because of probationary measures.
The ongoing consolidation of the biological sciences and plans for the Molecular and Cellular Biology Institute increase the University’s chances to pull in a larger share of the NIH’s expanded budget, said Dr. Charles Moldow, the Medical School’s associate dean for research.
Altogether, the bill provides funding for eight previously unfinished spending bills.
The College Work-Study Program received a $40 million increase, bringing its 1999 total to $870 million.
Funding for the Perkins Loan Program, which gives low-interest loans to needy students, did not follow the same upward trend. The bill allotted $100 million to the program, a $35 million decrease from last year.

–Staff Reporter Melanie Evans contributed to this report.