Friday, July 29, 2011

Rep. Denny Rehberg: Pell Grants Are Welfare

That's what the GOP would like you to believe. The Hill reported late last night that one of the sticking points in passing Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) debt ceiling plan was an increase of $17 billion in Pell Grants over 2 years. An addition Boehner added to the plan in order to make it more palatable to Democrats and the White House. Never mind that Pres. Obama already has said that he would veto the plan if it happened to pass both the House and the Senate. 

What did GOP members think of the Pell Grant inclusion? 
Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) called Pell Grants  “welfare”. He stated: 
"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.”

Yet it wasn't that long ago when the Bush administration was making funding Pell Grants a higher priority.  
"As costs skyrocket, it becomes increasingly difficult for middle-class families to afford college," Spelling said in a speech at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "And for low-income, mostly minority students, college is becoming virtually unattainable. States, institutions and the federal government--we all must increase need-based aid." - Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education under George W. Bush

So what happened to the GOP of yesteryear? And no, they weren't always supportive of Pell Grants. But at least the Bush administration made an effort late into the second term. Of course, it took a Democratic Congress pushing the Bush administration to get more attention on the lack of funding for Pell Grants, which adjusted for inflation, has barely risen since 1976, when the program was started. Check out this great chart for more.

Rep. Rehberg talks of Pell as though it's some dirty word. Maybe where he comes from. Then again, maybe not. See in Montana the percentage of college students who receive Pell Grants, at public and private colleges, ranges from 20% all the way up to 44% - 24,000 students in all. Think any of his constituents need Pell Grants?

This isn't the first time Rehberg has denigrated the Pell Grant program. Back in April he called it "welfare of the 21st century". One point that Rehberg did make -- which has a modicum of truth to it -- is that some of the rules need to be tightened, so that a student who isn't serious about their academics couldn't take advantage of the program. Conversely, one would think Rehberg wouldn't want institutions themselves to be able to take advantage of both students and the Pell Grant program by offering a higher education experience that was found to not be adequately preparing their students. One would think. 

Turns out Rehberg, according to the Huffington Post, voted  voted for an amendment in a bill, "which critics say would preserve some of the waste in the [Pell] program."

It prevents the Department of Education from enforcing a measure that would, according to Kay Steiger at Campus Progress, "pull federal aid from for-profit schools that have bad loan repayment rates, indicating that such schools charge excessive tuition [without] adequately preparing students for decent-paying jobs."

Meanwhile many depend on Pell Grants as the only way to keep college affordable. Jose Cruz, vice president of the Education Trust, a national education advocacy group, estimates "[a]bout half of all black American undergrads depend on Pell Grants to pay for college, and around 40 percent of Latino students get Pell Grants as well. Thirty-six percent of Asian and Pacific Islander American students depend on Pell." So everyone would be affected by lack of funding, but minorities even more so due to their disproportionate reliance on it.

Let's face it - the term 'welfare' is used as a pejorative to demean not only those who are in need of temporary assistance, but also black members of society who just won't pull their own weight. That's really what Rep. Rehberg is implying here, that only blacks and freeloaders utilize the Pell Grant program. But Montana's black population is only .4%, so Rep. Rehberg's conscience can be clear that raising Pell Grant funding won't help many blacks at all. 

Seriously though, this goes hand in hand with the enormous wealth disparity numbers Pew Center released recently. How could it not? Without access to higher education, or a reasonable and reliable way to pay for it, minorities will always be relegated to economic disenfranchisement. 


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