Dear Congress: Don’t Plunder the Current Pell Grant Surplus

Editor’s note: The following post is by Kate Tromble and Mandy Zatynski, writing for The Equity Line.

The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2014 estimates tell us one important thing about the Pell Grant program: It is sustainable — and it can stay that way if Congress manages its money well.

The 2014 budget estimate, released this week, forecasts surpluses for the Pell Grant program this year and next year — $7.7 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively. But that’ll only last so long: By 2016, Pell Grants will see a funding gap of a little less than $1 billion, according to estimates. (That’s a lot less than last year’s projections, which projected an almost-$6 billion funding gap.)

The new numbers mean, first and foremost, that the naysayers can stop screaming that we need to cut, reimagine, or reconfigure the Pell Grant program. The program isn’t costing as much as anticipated, the economy is getting better, and Congress is managing its higher education spending — at least as far as Pell Grants go — wisely.

But the new projections also mean Congress must continue to choose wisely. Rather than using the Pell surplus to fund other initiatives, as it likes to do, Congress needs to save for the future. By storing those billions away, Congress can avoid that funding gap and continue giving thousands of hard-working, low-income students the financial support they need to afford college.