The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 Friday, aiming to make college more accessible and affordable.
According to the Washington Post, House Resolution 3221 passed with Democrat support in a largely partisan 253 to 171 vote and will expand Pell Grants — a federal, need-based scholarship — in addition to putting student loans under federal government control instead of under the private sector.
Over the next 10 years, it will invest more than $589 billion dollars into Colorado. District 4, which includes Fort Collins and other northern, eastern and southeastern portions of the state, will receive $72.2 million.
The bill also includes an amendment that blocks federal funding for ACORN, a liberal grassroots organization with a turbulent, scandal-ridden past.
CSU President Tony Frank said if the increased funding projections are correct, the repercussions for CSU can only be positive.
“If there is a way to direct more money into student financial aid, it can only help. There’s just more money in the pot to satisfy the demands,” Frank said.
Ben Marter, chief spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, D-4, said a reform of the current federal loan program, to cut wasteful spending, will allow the bill to pay for itself and will save taxpayers about $87 billion over the next 10 years.
“In fact, it directs $10 billion to back into the U.S. Treasury specifically to pay off the national deficit,” Marter said.
According to documents from the House Education and Labor Committee, the act focuses specifically on seven key areas:
investment in college access and completion programs resulting in $2 million a year for the next five years in Colorado
strengthening and expanding the Perkins Loan Program
keeps interest rates low on need-based (subsidized) federal loans
simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form
investing $2.55 billion in institutions that historically serve minorities
enhancing community college programs, and preparing students and workers for 21st century jobs.
Colorado will begin seeing the effects of these changes as early as the 2010-2011 academic year, when the House Education and Labor Committee projects 15,579 students will be eligible for a Pell Grant.
The maximum Pell Grant will increase from $5,500 to $6,900 over the next decade.
Scholarships will also be linked to the rising cost of living by matching the Consumer Price Index, which estimates the average cost of consumer goods and services, plus 1 percent, increasing the number of students eligible for the grant.
While Reps. Markey and Jared Polis, D-2, voted for the finalized version of H.R. 3221, they differed in opinion regarding the ACORN amendment, which was added to the final bill by a vote of 345-75.
“Congresswoman Markey voted to prohibit federal funding to go to ACORN because she feels the matter merits further review, and therefore the organization should be blocked from funding until the investigation is over,” Marter said.
However, Polis voted against the bill because, he said, in an e-mail, it violates “Article 1, Sections 9 and 10, of the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly prohibits the passage of ‘bills of attainder’ — legislation targeted to benefit or penalize an individual or group and often exclude it from government service. ”
Polis said if ACORN is found guilty of any crime or the misuse of funds it should be penalized to the “full extent of the law” but said such measures should not be the responsibly of Congress.
“(The investigations) ought to be done by the courts and not by a politically motivated vote in Congress that violates the Constitution,” Polis said.
Staff writer Kirsten Silveira can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.