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The Pell Grant program, which is on the chopping block as lawmakers look to make spending cuts to resolve the ongoing debt ceiling crisis, may remain intact.

Two deals on the table at the moment — one from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the other from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — provide similar levels of funding to the Pell Grant program, which awards need-based funds to low-income students and families nationwide.

At Penn, an estimated 11 percent of students receive some sort of funding from the program.

Bill Andresen, Penn’s Associate Vice President of Federal Relations, said the plans proposed by Boehner and Reid keep overall funding for the program relatively consistent with previous legislation. Boehner’s plan contains $17 billion in supplemental funding for Pell Grants in 2012 and 2013 and Reid’s has $18 billion. Both maintain the maximum amount allocated per student at the current $5,500 level.

“Keeping funding at current levels is a top priority for Penn,” Andresen said.

The Pell Grant program was scaled back earlier this year. Its summer component was mostly eliminated when President Barack Obama approved the budget proposal set forth by the Republican-dominated Congress. The reduction in funding resulted in several hundred Penn students losing money for summer studies, according to Andresen.

The Democrats “seem committed” to maintaining Pell Grants, Andresen said. “Republicans appear much more willing to make cuts.”

This Monday, people nationwide came together for “Save Pell Day,” a day of action to call on Congress to maintain Pell Grant funding. Lending their support to the day included politicians such as Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) and 1999 College alumnus John Legend.

And last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) wrote a letter to Obama, signed by a total of 12 senators, urging him to “reject any proposals that reduce the Pell Grant maximum award or make harmful changes to Pell’s eligibility requirements.”

Because of a rapid increase in the number of students eligible for the program — the number of new awards increased from 5.3 million to 8.4 million from 2007 to 2010 — maintaining current funding for the Pell Grant program would actually lead to a reduction in the maximum amount of grants that students could receive.

Undersecretary for Postsecondary Education Martha Kanter testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies in March, saying that because of rising costs, “To do nothing would reduce the maximum grant by $2,650.”

“More students than ever are relying on federal aid,” Kanter said, “and if we are to reach our goal of out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world, we need to continue our investment in these students.”

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