The New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) is campaigning against proposed cuts to the federal government’s Pell Grant program.
This bill, which includes a $3.3 billion cut to the Pell Grant program, has already been approved by Congress. The Senate is scheduled to vote on it on Dec. 10.
April Nicklaus, the chair of NJPIRG’s Rutgers—New Brunswick chapter and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, called the Pell Grant program “the backbone of federal financial aid for students.” She said that because most people are in favor of education equity, the program has historically been supported by both major political parties.
But if this year’s spending bill is approved without changes, it will be the second year in a row that cuts were made to the Pell Grant program, she said.
“If cuts like this continue to be made then the viability and the long-term success of the Pell Grant program are in jeopardy,” Nicklaus said. “We have exactly the length of a semester to fight like crazy to try and keep equity in higher education.”
The practical, political problem in advocating for the Pell Grant program, Nicklaus said, is that the spending bill “encapsulates every single political dispute happening right now.”
While other issues that would be affected by the bill, such as healthcare reform and the president’s proposed wall along the Mexico-United States border, are well reported in popular media, most people are relatively unaware of the Pell Grant program. As a result, senators likely do not see it as a priority, Nicklaus said.
“It’s so important for students but it’s just barely even breaking the surface of what senators and the media are paying attention to,” Nicklaus said. “It’s flying under the radar and no one’s making a fuss about it. So as students who benefit greatly from the Pell Grant and are hurt immensely by cuts made to it, it’s our job to make a fuss.”
Nicklaus said that New Jersey’s senators Cory Booker (D) and Bob Menendez (D) have historically supported the Pell Grant program, and so they can likely be influenced to advocate for it.
“The issue now is, how do we make it a priority for them to talk about this?” Nicklaus said. “If we make it their priority and they talk about it then the media will start talking about it, other senators will start talking about it, and this inherently bipartisan program that has historically had so much support will then get a little bit more of the limelight and won’t be on the chopping block.”
Nicklaus said that NJPIRG’s main tactic for this campaign is to organize photo petitions. At tabling events, students can take a photo with a sign saying that they support the Pell Grant program, which they can then post to their social media accounts with tags for the senators’ accounts.
“What we want is for Senator Booker and Senator Menendez to see their Twitter feeds covered in Pell requests,” Nicklaus said.
NJPIRG is also coordinating with other states’ PIRGs for the first Rutgers National Pell Week of Action, which starts Oct. 30, Nicklaus said. This will be comprised of class announcements, tabling events and an increased social media presence.
There is also a panel scheduled for Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. in the Livingston Student Center, which is meant to educate students and faculty on the issue and how to take action.
“Be ready to be tired of us, because you will see a lot of us,” Nicklaus said.
Max Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.