Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Heinrich: Cuts to Pell Grants threaten next generation workers

by Peter St. Cyr

Corrected: Wednesday at 7:45a Wednesday

Before dawn last Saturday morning, objecting to the Republicans' proposed spending bill, U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich urged members to restore Pell grant funding to current levels. His Motion to Recommit, or MTR, unfortunately failed.

Recognizing the huge federal deficit, Heinrich said Congress must approach the country's challenges with responsibility and prudence.

"Americans need jobs," Heinrich said. "Republicans have ignored this problem and now they're making it worse."

Focused on preparing the next generation of workers, Heinrich spent his short time at the podium and warned members that arbitrary short-term cuts to programs like Pell grants will harm the country.

Educating students for a sustainable future

Heinrich, who announced a day later that he's considering launching a bid to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, told house members how the cuts will affect students like New Mexico war vet Specialist John Carabillo. He's currently enrolled in an associates program and studying information technology.

"These cuts are a choice that come at the expense of middle class Americans. And cuts to education weakens the country," Heinrich said.

After graduation, Carabillo, hopes to find an IT job at Kirtland Air Force Base.

The cuts approved by republicans, Heinrich believes will threaten Carabillo's opportunities and could force him to delay his education, take fewer classes, or take out expensive loans.

At 4:30 in the morning, Heinrich mustered the energy to tell his colleague that his MTR would be paid for by cutting salaries and expenses at the Department of Education, which takes it back to fiscal year 2008 levels.

Under the House Republicans’ bill, funding for Federal Pell Grant scholarships in New Mexico would be cut by $39 million in fiscal year 2011 from current levels, which would significantly reduce or eliminate federal financial aid for almost 10,307 low-income college students and slice $845 off of the current maximum award.

"This motion to recommit would be a down payment to Carabillo's future," Heinrich told a packed chamber. "My amendment to restore these scholarships will not add a penny to the deficit." Heinrich says the money for Pell grants can be found by making cuts to Education Department salaries.

We've asked Heinrich's staff to crunch some more numbers. We'd like to know how the Republicans' spending bill will impact New Mexico in other areas, like transportation, university research, lab spending, child head start and health programs, construction, and other areas.

We'll let you know. You can read how budget cuts are going to impact California in this LA Times article. You can expect similar consequences in New Mexico.

Correction: In the original post we wrote the a MTR was a Motion to Restore. In fact, it a Motion to Recommit.

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