Senate passes financial aid bill

Amber Foley

The U.S. Senate passed a bill late last week that could increase student financial-aid programs by more than $2 billion next year.
Although the bill must still pass through the U.S. House of Representatives and be signed by the president, some University officials are hopeful about Thursday’s measure.
“The more federal money, the better,” said Nancy Sinsabaugh, interim director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. “The more federal money available, the less burden the student will have to bear.”
If approved, the Senate measure, part of an annual appropriations bill, would increase funding for the College Work-Study Program, Pell grants and other federal- and state-funded financial aid disbursed by individual colleges.
The Senate version of the bill would increase funding for federal work-study programs by $870 million, from the current $64 million to $934 million. The House version would increase the program’s funding by $10 million.
The 1,901 University students in the work-study program last year received an average of $2,141 a year.
The additional funding could mean more students would be eligible for work study or that students already in the work-study program would get more money, Sinsabaugh said.
The Senate bill would also increase the maximum Pell grant by $200 to total $3,325. The House version of the bill would raise the maximum by $150.
Last year, 5,466 University undergraduates received Pell grants, Sinsabaugh said.
“I think that this would be a great advantage for students,” Sinsabaugh said. “It would be $200 dollars that wouldn’t have to come out of their pockets.”
The bill just passed by the Senate would also increase the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program, a campus-based financial-aid program funded by the federal government, said Debra Pusari, associate director for undergraduate services in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.
“It’s different from the Pell grant in that the Pell grant is based on a student’s family contribution; exact money goes with the student to the college they choose,” Pusari said.
The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program “is a lump sum of money given to the school to give to the students,” Pusari added.
While the House would freeze the program’s amount at $619 million, the Senate would raise this program’s budget from $12 million to $631 million.
The Senate would also increase the budget of the Leveraging Educational Assistance program, which is related to the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program, Pusari said. The increase would go from the current $50 million to $75 million.
Under the House version, the program would be eliminated.
Minnesota senators were split on the bill, which passed by a vote of 73-25.
Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., voted against the bill. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., voted in favor of it.
“(Wellstone) is a strong supporter for the Pell grant and would like to do more,” said Andrew McDonald, a Wellstone spokesman. “He knows that it can make or break a student in having an opportunity for a higher education.”

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