Democratic Lawmakers Push for Pell Grant Spending Increase

Over 40 senators wrote to Senate leadership urging a larger allocation of funds for the Pell Grant program.
portrait of Matthew Arrojas
Matthew Arrojas
Read Full Bio


Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on May 22, 2024
Edited by
portrait of Alex Pasquariello
Alex Pasquariello
Read Full Bio

Managing Editor, News

Alex Pasquariello is a managing news editor for BestColleges. Prior to joining BestColleges he led Metropolitan State University of Denver's digital journalism initiative. He holds a BS in journalism from Northwestern University....
Learn more about our editorial process
Image Credit: Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty Images

  • The federal government may soon run out of funds for the Pell Grant program.
  • Pell Grants help over 6 million low- and middle-income students afford college annually.
  • Lawmakers want to ensure that there will be enough funds to award Pell Grants to all eligible students.
  • Senators also called on Congress to raise the maximum Pell Grant award.

Forty-one U.S. senators voiced support for an increase to the maximum Pell Grant award, and an increase to Pell Grant spending overall.

Last week, lawmakers penned a letter to leaders on the Senate's Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee that called on the Senate to allocate enough funds to the Pell Grant program so that all students who qualify for it receive the full financial aid they are entitled to have.

Pell Grants are awarded each year to over 6 million low- and middle-income students to help subsidize the cost of higher education.

Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were among the lead signatories on the May 13 missive. All senators who co-signed the letter are either Democrats or independents who caucus with Democrats.

Specifically, the letter makes three requests:

  • Increase Pell Grant discretionary funds so that there is enough available for students
  • Expand eligibility to students who have been historically excluded or previously cut out
  • Increase the maximum Pell Grant award

It is critically important that the subcommittee continues to protect all Pell Grant reserves from any reallocation, raid, or rescission that would hasten any shortfalls in the program, the letter reads.

Pell Grant funds should be retained in the program to increase the maximum award, reverse prior eligibility cuts, and provide new opportunities to provide higher education to historically underrepresented students.

This comes after the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget projected in February that the federal government would exhaust Pell Grant reserves by 2026 or sooner.

Pell Grant funding comes through a mix of mandatory and discretionary funds, but discretionary spending makes up most of the program's yearly allocation. Discretionary funds are, however, subject to the whims of Congress each year, leaving the program vulnerable to funding shortfalls.

President Joe Biden requested a $750 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award in his fiscal year 2025 budget proposal. This would bring the maximum award to $8,145 annually.

He has previously called on Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant award between 2022 and 2029.

After consecutive years of maximum Pell Grant increases, Congress opted not to change the maximum award for the 2024-25 academic year. This is due, in part, to a deal Biden struck with Republican leadership in mid-2023 to raise the debt ceiling.