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Congressman Votes to Keep Funding for What He Calls Pell Grant ‘Welfare’

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Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) recently called Pell grants "welfare" for poor students, but voted for a measure that would defund greater accountably for the program.

CREDIT: AP/ Lisa Kunkel

Amanda Terkel of Huffington Post reported that Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) recently said in a recent radio interview that Pell grants, or funds from the federal budget expressly for the poorest of students to attend college, are "welfare."

"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," said Rehberg in an interview with Blog Talk Radio. "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. And there ought to be some kind of commitment and endgame."

You can listen to the full audio (the Pell comments begin around 7 minutes into the clip) on the Huffington Post’s website.

If Rehberg is worried about federal dollars spent on Pell grants going to waste, it was a wrong move for him to vote in favor of an amendment to the House’s continuing budget resolution bill in February that would prevent the Department of Education from the enforcement of a measure that would pull federal aid from for-profit schools that have bad loan repayment rates, indicating that such schools charge excessive tuition with adequately preparing students for decent-paying jobs.

The Pell grant is distributed to about 9 million students each year, giving them up to $5,350 toward college. This amount typically comes nowhere near the total cost of attending college; in fact, even as Pell increased over the years, college tuition has more than outpaced those increases. That means students that receive the Pell grant are also taking on student loans, both federally subsidized and private, to make up the difference.

The problem is that some colleges aren’t offering such a good value for what they charge, and high default rates are a good indicator of that.

As Adam Serwer wrote last month, if anything, it is for-profit schools that typify the "welfare queen" stereotype, freeloading of a generous government program designed to help people. The difference is, when for-profit schools take advantage of the Pell grant program, they often actually do harm to students, leaving them in mountains of debt.

Kay Steiger is the editor of CampusProgress.org.

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