Wednesday, August 21

Bill to increase Cal B awards clears California Senate

Thousands of low-income college students could see the amount of their Cal Grants double under a bill that cleared the California Senate Tuesday with a unanimous vote.

The legislation, called SB 285, would increase the amount students receive from Cal Grant B access awards, which typically give students up to $1,473 per year to cover costs such as textbooks and living expenses. The bill, which looks likely to pass, must be approved by the Assembly and signed by the governor by Sept. 13 before becoming law.

Low-income students at California public and private colleges can apply for Cal Grant B access awards. Other Cal Grants, which are not included in the bill, specifically cover tuition and career technical training.

Proponents of the bill have argued that $1,473 is not enough to cover a sizable portion of students’ living and book expenses, especially with many students now graduating with thousands of dollars of debt, according to a statement from California Senator Kevin de Leon, who initiated the bill. The average income of the majority of Cal Grant B recipients is $16,640, the statement added.

Currently, 6 percent of the UCLA undergraduate population – about 1,600 UCLA students – benefits from Cal Grant B awards, said Ronald Johnson, UCLA director of financial aid, in an email.

If the bill is enacted, all students who receive Cal Grant B awards will benefit from the bill, said Claire Conlon, spokeswoman for DeLeon. About 177,000 students across California would be expected to receive larger Cal Grant B awards.

“Any bit of money helps, and I’m glad that they’re helping students to go to college,” said Adrian Manuel, a third-year anthropology student who receives a Cal Grant award.

Experts have estimated the bill could increase Cal Grant B awards from $1,473 to amounts ranging from $3,000 to $5,000, based on student need and the amount of funds available for the awards, Conlon added.

The increase in Cal Grant B award amounts would be entirely funded through donations. Those who donate would receive a portion of their donation back in state tax credit, as well as a federal deduction for a charitable contribution, Conlon said.

“This is an innovative tax credit that’s never been done before,” Conlon said. “It doesn’t cost the state any money.”

If passed, the bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014 and would increase the award for students beginning in the fall of 2015 after the state treasurer certifies the amount of funds available to distribute for awards.

Several students said they would appreciate an increase in the grant award.

Melissa Lawmaster, a third-year theater student who receives a Cal Grant award, said living expenses are high in Los Angeles and an increase in the Cal Grant she receives would help.

“I have to move out of Westwood because the rent is too expensive, so it would be really nice if the increase can cover my rent so I don’t have to commute,” Lawmaster said.

The bill depends on a sister bill, SB 284, to also pass to establish a fund to collect taxpayer donations.

SB 284 also passed the Senate with a unanimous vote this week.

Contributing reports by Annie Lu, Bruin contributor.

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