Federal Pell Grant Program: How The Debt Ceiling Debate Affects You or Someone You Know

It was announced this morning that House Republicans called a floor vote on their revamped Debt Ceiling bill for sometime today. Since this debate has began, the Federal Pell Grant program has been on the chopping block and it is clear that it will remain there in today’s House vote.

The Federal Pell Grant program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education. According to the programs website, students may use their grants at any one of approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions.

What makes Pell Grants unique is those who receive them do not have to pay them back after graduation.

When the program began 30 years ago, the Pell Grant’s had the ability to cover almost three-fourths of the cost of attending  four years at a public college. Today, however, the maximum award from the program only covers about a third of the cost. 63% of Pell recipients take out other loans to pay for their schooling.

The program is open to students of all races and genders, but nearly half of African Americans pursuing an undergraduate degree receive Pells, as do 40 percent of Latino undergrads.

When the 2012 fiscal budget was up for debate, things were looking pretty good for the Pell Grant program. Overall, Obama wanted to raise Pell funding by more than $5 billion dollars. House Republicans,  however, wanted to lower the maximum Pell grant to $4,705 and cut other education spending by $4.9 billion. The program ended up taking a $4 billion hit.

However, Congress’s failure to pass this year’s budget has kept the Pell Grant program in limbo, showing up on college bills as being present but with no amount assigned to it.

If  Pell grants are cut down, not only will fewer students be able to go to college but the students benefitting financially from the program currently will have a tough time finishing.

Students who have not even started packing for college in the Fall may have to reevaluate their financial situation before they swipe into their dorms.  Colleges will have to roll back a portion of their financial-aid offers if the Pell Grant program gets cut down.

Michigan State’s financial aid-director, Rick Shipman, told The Chronicle of Higher Education  that Michigan State would have to reduce the financial-aid packages offered to more than 9,000 students if cuts to the Pell program are enacted. Most of those students are already receiving the university’s maximum aid award, he said.

For politicians who are so invested in the future of this nation, it appears that they are looking over one detail; the generation who is going to run it. It does not make sense to cut funding from education or programs that help students pay for the outrageous price of public and private colleges today.

Further, I would be willing to bet my own college education that this issue would be less contested if the majority of its recipients were not minorities.

Everyone comes from different backgrounds and not all families have an equal start when it comes to raising money for their students education. There is certainly an underlying theme of elitism in the Pell Grant debates, because by cutting scholarship funding for minorities it returns higher education to the white-privilege opportunity it once was.


The Debit Ceiling: What Happened, What is Happening

How We Got Here: A Brief Legislative History  

Since World War 1, Congress has had the ability to pass a budget which requires financial dependency on other countries while arguing to approve the budget later. This system was created during the first World War so Congress could put a limit on just how much debt the federal government could acquire. The limit was a part of a law that allowed the Treasury to issue liberty bonds to help pay for the war.   The law hoped to eliminate the need for Congress to approve each new issuance of debt and therefore give the Treasury greater discretion.

The raising of the debt limit has been almost an every day occurrence for past presidents; GOP hero Ronald Regan raised the debt limit 18 times, while President Bush raised it seven times.  Over the years the limit has been raised repeatedly, to $14.3 trillion today from roughly $43 billion in 1940.

Federal Spending in the Past 11 Years 

“In the year 2000, the government had a budget surplus. But instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, while two wars and an expensive prescription drug program were simply added to our nation’s credit card.” -Barack Obama in his July 25 address

People are asking, how we got from the post Clinton administration surplus to almost ten years of deficits. The New York Times reported that the economic decline is largely a result of the Bush-era tax  cuts, war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan and recessions.

This first graph shows the difference between what the budget was expected to be and what the budget reality ended up being. As of 2001, the Congressional Budget office predicted the financial surplus would only continue if the economy sustained. But because of over spending, the federal budget fell into a deficit every year. Just before Obama took office, the budget office projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for the 2009 fiscal year and deficits for years to come after that. Obama’s 2009 and 2010 policies, including the stimulus package, did add to those deficits but on more of a temporary level.

The second graph shows under President Bush, tax cuts and war spending were the greatest actors in the swing of a could be surplus to a deficit. Barack Obama clearly adds significantly less.

So wait, what does this mean? 

If the United States does not raise the debt ceiling like it has in the past, it will default on its loans. This means the country  will be given no additional time to pay back the loans we owe with the money we don’t have.

We will owe about $307 billion during the rest of the August but will only be taking in $172 billion dollars in revenue. Without enough money to pay for everything, the nation will have to prioritize who they are making payments to or pay the bills in the order in which they were/are received. Depending on how they choose, the government could not have enough money left to pay for things like the  salaries of the federal workers and members of the military, and Pell Grant college scholarships.

According to the US Treasurey, raising the debt limit does not increase our federal governments obligations, but instead allows for the government to address its current obligations. Refusing to raise the debt limit does nothing to reduce those existing obligations or cut the deficit.

Where we stand today 

For political reasons only, the “debt ceiling crisis” remains unsolved.  Republicans are holding the Debt Ceiling hostage until their spending cut demands are reached. Nations around the world are baffled by how U.S. officials are handling this issue and are terrified of what the indecisiveness of this country means for their own economy.

In this hour, an important time measurement to point out because this issue changes hourly, talks are stalled as the GOP rewrites their proposal due to miscalculations.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced  on Tuesday night that House Majority leader John Boehner’s  bill would have only cut spending by $850 billion  over the next decade, not the $1.2 trillion he had aimed for.

However, Boehners plan is even proving to be a bit radical for his fellow Republicans. As of 3:30 this afternoon Talking Points Memo reported conservatives have renewed their campaign against the House Majority leaders plan…

 They’re opposed to any plan that doesn’t guarantee vast spending reductions, and allow conservatives to declare victory in a decades long fight over the propriety of federal safety net programs.

Democrats continue to bide their time in the Senate, waiting for the vote on Boehners bill before making decisions of their own. If the bill succeeds in the House, Senate majority leader Harry Reid will have to decide whether to bring it up for a symbolic vote (symbolic because Democrats rule the Senate and will not vote for it) or if he will just proceed with his own bill. Democrats will be hard pressed to pass anything that severly cuts Medicare, social security and other social programs.

The Different Types of Feminism: A Misguided Analysis Posted on Thought Catalogue

There was an out-cry amongst feminists in the Twitter community today over an article posted by Thought Catalogue and written by Johanna de Silentio.

Thought Catalogue calls itself an online magazine for people who are passionate about culture. The site houses many personal and introspective narratives that are organized by catalogue IDs. Some of todays, July 26, headlines include “When You Don’t Remember The Name of Someone You’ve Slept With” and “Coffee Talk in the Office Breakroom”.

Todays Thought Catalogue article that sparked controversy was “The Different Types of Feminist There Are”. The article was originally posted on Philolzophy.com, a site  the writer co-founded. It lists, what the author thinks, is 6 different types of feminists in contemporary society.

First, the author calls out the “Angry Feminists”:

“Angry Feminists believe in equality but hate lots of women—basically anyone who is pretty, wears heels, or laughs a lot. Actually, a large part of Angry Feminist culture is the rejection of feminine things for the sake of rejecting feminine things.”

She likens angry feminists to Courtney Love and Kelly Osborne, before she dyed her hair of course.

Second, she explains who the “Douchey Dude Feminists”, DDF for short, are:

 “The DDF is a feminist solely because he desires another excuse by which he can complain loudly about his own lot in life. He’s fundamentally bitter toward women because of his lack of dating success, and blames it on what he perceives to be intellectual and ideological inadequacies in the girls he finds himself pursuing.”

She likens DDFs to Privilege-denying white dude and supporting male characters in Judd Apatow movies.

Next, the author moves on to talk about her favorite type of feminist,  The Slutty Feminist!:

  “They may or may not have good arguments for believing the things they do, but the Slutty Feminist is the only one who won’t make fun of me for liking Legally Blonde. They fight for the right to wear leggings as pants and booty dresses in the winter and fuck you if you think that invites a rape.

She likens Slutty feminists to Chelsea Handler and Bill Clinton.

The “Joyless Pseudo Intellectual Feminist” is up next for analysis:

“ Arguing with them is completely pointless, because even if you manage to ingest enough Adderall to stay awake through the conversation, they’re so closed-minded that you’ll eventually just give up.”

She likens these feminist to every tumblr blog with feminism tags.

Next the author relates it back to the read, explain the “Regular Person Feminist”:

“These are people just like you and me that in passing conversation would say “I’m a feminist,” but it’s not something they bring up or discuss ad nauseum.”

Both Tina Fey and Drew Barrymore have been awarded the position of spokespersons for the RPF’s.

Finally, there is the “Stay at Home Feminists”:

“They are constant apologists for the compatibility of feminism and stay at home moms. They think they’re better than the bourgeoise but are generally harmless unless you point out that all mommy blogs are necessarily hackneyed, or say that baking is way lame.”

The author likens these women to Gwyneth Paltrow.

Respected bloggers and authors in the feminists community took to their twitter in, what felt like, a feminist community reunion over something that was a bummer to have to reunite over.

In what was a constant flow of sarcasm and criticism, the feminist community made it clear that no one in their right-feminist-mind would endorse the article posted on Thought Catalogue.

What is most concerning is the potential it actually had to be a really insightful piece of writing. The feminism community certainly has it’s different branches. Some are more concentrated on the LGBT issue while others are more focused on Reproductive Rights. There are different ideologies within the community that sometimes tear the movement apart, whether it be about which issues are focused on more or whether a certain issue belong in our community at all.

An analysis of the different branches of feminism and the activists that come with it could have been quite brilliant. Unfortunately, the product of Ms. Johanna De Silento’s piece was a clear painting of how misunderstood the feminist community is. The article was degrading, at best, in every category she presented. Imagine if Ms. De Silentio wrote an article defining the different kind of black people, and conjuring up stereotypes similar to the ones she did about feminists. There would be an absolute outcry in the blogging community, rather than a 40 minute sarcastic tweet-a-thon amongst feminists.

Another irony in all of this is that the comments page was turned off. Seeing this makes one consider if maybe the author was just being a sensationalist and knew exactly how ludicrous her article was. However, based on the ignorant narrative she has written, Ms. De Silentio hardly deserves the benefit of the doubt.

According to her bio, this is not the first time Johanna de Silentio has contributed to thought catalogue. She has also written “Judging Male Attractiveness Based On The Shoes They Wear”.

Cleveland Heights: A Curfew Story

In the past month, the city of  Cleveland Heights has been undergoing much turmoil with regards to their youth and violence.

According to residents, the congregating of mass groups of kids has been an issue for a while now. However, it was the violent out break after a June arts fair on Coventry Street that was the last straw for the Cleveland suburb.

Coventry Street Fair is a bi-annual event which happens every summer on Coventry Street in Cleveland Heights. Business owners from around the county come out and share what their business has to offer while residents of all ages come out to walk around and shop. However, the June 2011 fair took a violent turn as upwards of 1,000 kids showed  up unsupervised. While that number is subjective depending on who you speak with, they certainly caused a ruckus.

The streets were so packed together that people were having trouble walking. A couple of kids got purposefully attacked, but the violence generally broke out amongst the chaos. City officials called this mass violence a flash mob. 27 people were arrests but only three of them were Cleveland Heights residents.

After some investigation, it was discovered that kids had organized to come to this event through the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. While violence was not the initial intent of most of the social networking conversations regarding the event, it was the outcome.

The City Council, which is lead by Mayor Ed Kelley, sprung into action very quickly over the next few days. By June 30, less than a week after the post street fair violence,  kids under the age of 18 were not permitted to frequent Coventry Village and Cedar-Lee  Commercial areas between the hours of 6:00  p.m. and 6:00 a.m. without a parent or guardian. Parent’s whose children break the new law will be required to come pick their child up and pay a $50 fine.

Coventry Village is the commercial epicenter of Cleveland Heights. It has many restaurants, music and book shops. It has been a popular hang out spot for many generations and until recently was generally a safe place to be.

There are a few exceptions to the curfew rule. Juveniles can be without a parent in these areas between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. if they are on an errand for a parent , if they are engaged in lawful employment, coming and going from an event in the area or coming home from some kind of athletic or school practice.

The Heights community burst with both support and outrage over this new curfew. While it was understood that this legislation was passed in order to keep the community safe, some parents worried if the 6 p.m. curfew start time was much too early.

The community held an open forum on July 13 when all different community residents came out to have an open discussion about what was really going on.

Some thought the issue was racial, while others thought it was necessary measure being taken. While it is tough to say a consensus has been reached, it seemed like the community wanted something done but the curfew in place was not necessarily it.

The biggest issue with violence in Cleveland Heights is that it is not Cleveland Heights teens causing the issues. Youth are coming in from other cities, supposedly organizing through social networking, to come to these different places and being mischievous. While violence may not always be the intent, the majority of the time these large gatherings do end in some kind of altercation.

The youth made sure their voice was not forgotten in this debate. A group that calls themselves the Youth of Coventry have been very supportive of the measures council is taking because they want to see the streets they loved returned to the safe place it once was. They support the 6 p.m. curfew for the time being, but if it slips into permanence they will pull their support for council.

Courtesy of the Plain Dealer

The Youth of Coventry have also been working with Cleveland Heights City Council to make them more adept to the ways of social networking.

While the curfew debate is long from over, it has proven to be an interesting case for me to follow in my first freelance writing position. Initially I batted for the team that was thoroughly  against this kind of infringement on teen rights. However, after speaking with everyone and looking at the issue  I realize it is not as black and white as it seems. This issue is less about right infringement and more a communities effort to keep itself safe in a world they sometimes do not recognize. If the youth can continue to work with council and if the county Cleveland Heights is apart of can come together and work on this issue more holistically, over time this issue could be resolved.

For more information on this issue and my coverage over the past month visit http://www.cleveland.com/cleveland-heights/