The newly empowered, Democratic-led Congress and President George W. Bush upped the ante against each other this week, debating the level of funding for Pell Grants in the federal budget.

The U.S. House passed a spending bill last week that would raise Pell Grant maximum allocations from $4,050 to $4,310 for 2007. Meanwhile, in his 2007-08 budget released earlier this week, Bush proposed raising the maximum Pell Grant to $4,600 in 2008. This amount, however, has caused some Democrats to balk, saying the amount isn’t enough and will be funded by cutting from other college aid programs.

Pell Grant awards are given to qualified undergraduates and determined by expected family income as well as the cost of attendance for school.

According to the House Committee on the Budget’s analysis of Bush’s 2008 fiscal plan, the proposed Pell Grant increase to $4,600 would cut $1.4 billion dollars from other education projects such as Perkins Loans – a graduate and undergraduate student low-interest loan – and Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, given to students with exceptional financial need. This funding plan would increase over the next five years eventually raising the maximum allocation of a Pell Grant to $5,400.

In January, Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced a bill into the Senate to raise the maximum Pell Grant amount to $5,100 for the 2007-08 academic year. It would also increase in yearly increments up to $6,300 by the 2011-12 academic year – surpassing Bush’s suggested level of funding.

Kennedy’s bill is currently being reviewed in the Senate Committee on Finance.

University of California Student Association Statewide Organizing Director Christine Byon said Congress has kept the maximum Pell Grant at $4,050 for the past five years. She said the recent adjustments can be attributed to the change in political party control after the Nov. 2006 elections.

“Funding the Pell Grant will be a really huge step for education,” Byon said.

Congresswoman Lois Capps said increasing the maximum Pell Grant for the remaining fiscal year was a good step, but more needs to be done for the 2007-08 academic year.

“I was disappointed that the president’s budget for fiscal year 2008 only included a minimal increase in the Pell Grant awards,” Capps said. “I am hopeful that the Congress will increase the maximum Pell Grant award beyond the president’s request.”

Emily Kryder, spokesperson for Capps, said Pell Grant increases are the first steps in a number of changes the Democrats would like to implement, including increasing the availability of Federal Stafford Loans and reducing interest rates on student loans.

“In terms of education, we should see more action being taken by Democrats over the coming weeks,” Kryder said.

Byon said a Pell Grant increase could help to raise the diversity of the student body at UC schools.

“Many student don’t go because they can’t pay,” Byon said. “UCs will be more of an option for people that have low incomes.”