More than a dozen UCLA students traveled to Washington, D.C., this weekend to protest potential cuts to the federal Pell Grant program and to participate in a national student legislative conference.
The House and Senate budget proposals passed last week would freeze maximum Pell Grant awards for students at the current $5,775. President Barack Obama in his budget proposal, however, called for program funding to increase $30 billion over 10 years and for the maximum award amounts to continue to be tied to inflation.
Students who went to Washington, D.C., to participate in the United States Student Association National Grassroots Legislative Convention protested the Congress’ budget proposal Friday near Capitol Hill.
“If we don’t protect it, I don’t know who will,” said Erineo Garcia, national affairs director for the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s External Vice President’s office and a fourth-year political science and international development studies student who led the UCLA delegation.
The House budget committee said in its budget report that the Pell Grant program will face a funding shortfall in the 2016 fiscal year. To address the potential deficit, the budget proposal would make all funding for Pell Grants come from a discretionary fund instead of from mandatory funding set aside for the program.
A progressive think tank called Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, however, claimed that eliminating mandatory funding for Pell Grants would leave the program highly vulnerable to cuts during the budget negotiation process between the House and Senate.
“They are saying it’s discretionary but we know when budget is sent to different committees, cuts are going to come from discretionary funding,” said Maxwell Love, United States Student Association president.
Seventeen students from UCLA went on the trip out of more than 70 students who applied, Garcia said. More than 200 students from across the country participated in the convention and the protest, he said.
Some students in cap and gown blocked the street and were eventually arrested but not charged, Garcia said.
Love said students made chants such as “no cuts, no fees.” Speakers such as Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, spoke about importance of higher education, he said.
The protest was part of an annual convention during which students learn about organizing on campus, Love said. Love said students will also lobby legislators on issues such as financial aid on Monday as part of National Student Lobby Day.
Garcia said the USAC External Vice President’s office also held a call-in to legislators during finals week to protest Pell Grant funding cuts. His delegation will lobby the region’s representatives Monday as well, Garcia said.
Compiled by Jeong Park, Bruin senior staff.