Cantwell, Senators Call on Obama to Help Keep College Affordable, Reject Pell Grant Cuts

In Letter Sent Today, Cantwell and 13 Senators Urge President to Continue Investing in Pell Grants, Job Training

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged President Obama to maintain Pell Grant Awards at their current level and to restore Workforce Investment Act (WIA) support in his FY 2013 budget. In a letter to the Director of the Office on Management and Budget (OMB), Cantwell joined a group of Senators in calling for the maximum Pell Award to be kept at $5,550 and for support of crucial WIA programs to be either maintained or restored to FY 2010 levels.

The cost of tuition at universities and colleges has risen sharply just as the demand for workers with secondary schooling has grown. Tuition at the University of Washington, the state’s flagship school, increased by more than 20 percent this past fall. That increase was the largest in the university’s history. Nationwide tuition and fees at America’s public colleges rose more than 8 percent this year.

“Employers need to fill quality jobs with qualified workers,” said Cantwell. “Postsecondary education is increasingly essential to find a good, well-paid job. But skyrocketing tuition is making it harder for Washington families and students to pay for college without sinking under a mountain of debt. Pell Grants are crucial to making college affordable for Washingtonians. We can’t afford to make higher education harder for Washington students to access.”

With the help of federal Pell Grants, Cantwell was the first member of her family to graduate from college. She has worked to make college affordable since taking office. Cantwell pushed for the passage of College Cost Reduction Act in 2007 which was the most significant increase in student aid since the G.I. Bill.

The Federal Pell Grant Program provides low-income students with need-based grants to make the cost of attending postsecondary schools more affordable. Any changes to the program could impact thousands of students in Washington state. Last year approximately 9 million students across the nation received about $36.5 billion in Pell Grants. Beyond students heading into higher education from high school, Pell Grants and the WIA have helped millions of adult workers obtain postsecondary training crucial to employment.

Nine million individuals received training and other employment services through WIA Title I programs last year, a 248 percent increase from two years ago. But despite this growing demand for federal workforce investments funding has been cut by more than $1 billion in the last two years.

“Expanding access to job training and postsecondary and adult education is imperative to ensuring that all workers can obtain the skills and credentials required to get and keep well-paying jobs,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “WIA-funded workforce programs have been—and must continue to be—a part of the solution.”

Cantwell has also fought against cuts to the WIA and has been a consistent advocate for workforce development training in industries as diverse as clean energy technology, health care information-technology and aerospace training to advance Washington’s 21st century economy. Last June, Cantwell visited South Seattle Community College to call for continued investment in job training programs that equip workers with sought after skills.

The letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Daniel Akaka (D-HI). 

February 9, 2012

Acting Director Jeffrey Zients

The Office of Management and Budget

725 17th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Acting Director Jeffrey Zients:

As you develop the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget requests for the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education, we urge you to ensure that the final budget proposes adequate investments in job training and adult education programs authorized under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), and provides sufficient support for the Pell Grant program so that U.S. workers and businesses have access to the skills they need to rebuild the economy and maintain our country’s competitive edge.

Nearly two-thirds of all job openings from 2008-2018 are projected to require at least some postsecondary education or training, but as many as 90 million Americans lack the skills or credentials needed in today’s labor market. Expanding access to job training and postsecondary and adult education is imperative to ensuring that all workers can obtain the skills and credentials required to get and keep well-paying jobs. 

WIA-funded workforce programs have been—and must continue to be—a part of the solution. Last year, more than 9 million individuals received training and other employment services through WIA Title I programs - a 248 percent increase in participation rates in just two years – and more than half of these individuals found employment as a result. Demand is also increasing for WIA Title II adult basic education programs: last year, 49 states had waiting lists for entry into adult education programs, with more than 160,000 applicants unable to access services.

Despite increased demand, funding for federal workforce development programs has declined in the last decade by more than 30 percent, with more than $1 billion in funding cuts in just the last two years including more than $350 million from WIA formula grants. These cuts are already having an impact: a recent survey of workforce providers indicated that more than three-quarters expected to reduce training, and nearly half stated they would have to reduce enrollments in adult literacy services.

Similarly, recent changes to the Pell Grant program could eliminate access for nearly 150,000 students next year alone, while more than a quarter of a million additional students will see their awards reduced at a time of rapidly rising tuition costs. These changes will most significantly impact nontraditional students, likely even further reducing access to skills training for working adults.  

While we recognize the fiscal constraints facing Congress and the Administration, we must work together to prioritize investments in the skills of the U.S. workforce. Specifically, we urge you to: 

  • Restore funding for WIA Title I programs—including the Adult, Dislocated Worker, and Youth formula grants—to at least FY 2010 levels. At a minimum, we must maintain current funding levels for these programs, and reject any proposals to consolidate or otherwise modify WIA funding that would have the effect of reducing overall funding for workforce development or otherwise limiting access to services for jobseekers or employers.
  • Maintain current funding levels for adult education state grants under Title II.
  • Provide new funding to support innovative state and local workforce development strategies, such as subsidized employment, summer jobs, industry partnerships, and other strategies identified in the Pathways Back to Work Act.
  • Maintain the current maximum Pell Award at $5,550. Reject any further funding cuts or programmatic changes to Pell that would reduce access to postsecondary education and training for working adults and other non-traditional students.

Thank you for your attention to these critical issues. We look forward to working with you to ensure that our investments in the U.S. workforce are sufficient to meet the needs of America’s workers and businesses.