News: Federal Policy & Advocacy

What is the 2020-21 Pell Grant Max Award?

Monday, November 18, 2019  
Posted by: Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy
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Update, Jan. 7, 2020: In late December 2019, Congress passed – and President Trump signed into law – a bipartisan spending package to fund the government through fiscal year 2020. The bill included a $150 increase to the maximum Pell Grant, bringing the max award to $6,345 for the 2020-21 academic year.

The short answer: We have absolutely no idea.

Congress is still debating what the federal spending levels will be for fiscal year 2020, which started on Oct. 1. Because of the way the federal fiscal year overlaps with the academic award year, the dollar amounts lawmakers are currently debating will set the Pell Grant program funding for the 2020-21 year.

The problem is that there is no end in sight to the disagreements, which puts students (not to mention financial aid administrators) in a tough spot. Without knowing what the maximum award will be, financial aid packages for students – both new and returning – will continue to be estimated until Congress completes its work.

The good news is that, most likely, the Pell Grant maximum will be at least the current $6,195. The House appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education passed funding levels that would allow for a $150 increase, to a maximum of $6,345. Their Senate counterparts were rumored to be working in September on a bill that included a $135 increase. And while a difference of $15 a student seems like a small gap to bridge, the big-ticket items still under discussion – such as funding for a border wall or abortion provisions – continue to tie up the entire process.

In September, Congress passed a continuing resolution, or β€œCR,” that extended the previous funding levels from fiscal year 2019 through Nov. 21. We are now two days before that deadline, and Congress plans to pass another extension through Dec. 20. This will give them just four more weeks to come to consensus on all 12 appropriations bills that must be passed annually and signed by the president. Given that this timeline could also align with an impeachment vote, there are already rumors in Washington of a third extension, from Dec. 21 into February.

Overall, the appropriators credited with funding Pell appear to want to provide the increase that would help to stabilize the continually decreasing purchasing power of the grant, but their work is caught in the much larger picture of funding the federal government during polarized times.

Looking to motivate Congress to get moving? Be sure to participate in NCAN’s #Thankful4Pell campaign (Nov. 18-22) to remind them about the importance of the Pell Grant program.