Over the summer, the U.S. Congress will be debating the provisions of President Biden’s proposed American Families Plan (AFP). Ultimately, the passage of all or part of the American Families Plan will happen through the federal budget resolution and reconciliation process.  That process will be moving forward during the summer and into the Fall. I will be writing a series of blogs that describe some of the provisions in the AFP that will help West Virginia working families. If a provision sounds good to you, it is really important that you tell our Congressional Delegation to include it in the budget reconciliation package.

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care is excited about all the provisions that will help working West Virginia families in the AFP, and we support the entire package. We have already described some of the fantastic policies in the AFP explicitly related to health care and making health insurance more affordable, but the AFP also increases benefits to things not so directly related to health care. Of course, we all know that good health has many social determinants and education can play an important role in health status. The American Families Plan includes significant provisions that will increase the affordability of higher education - college or post-high school trade school programs.

The American Families Plan proposes two years of free community college and an $85 billion investment in Pell Grants, which would help students seeking a certificate or a two- or four-year degree. 

As a college student, the parts of the plan that talk about increased pell grant funding and two years of free community college are of special interest to me. The Pell grant helped fund my education. I was lucky enough to have parents who were in a position to save money for my education. However, not everyone is fortunate to be in the same position as me. 

My friend Amanda wasn’t given the same opportunity that I was. When we were talking about the Pell Grant, she said, “As a child of a single-parent household, I would not be where I’m at today if not for the Pell Grant.” She is a proud Concord Alumni with a bachelor’s of science and biology. Since her time in Concord, she has received a degree in nursing and is currently back in school to receive her master’s in nursing.  

When Amanda was applying for college in 2006, her mother’s annual income was $12,000, which was more than the minimum wage at that time. However, even then tuition rates were expensive. In 2006 when Amanda started attending Concord, tuition was $4,204 per semester without room and board. It would be impossible to go to college without taking on massive debt.

Amanda told me, “The majority of the country already starts well below the affluent, and without grants like this, there would be no opportunity for them, despite their potential ability. Your income does not denote your intelligence or your potential contribution to society.” Young adults should be afforded the opportunity to further their education regardless of how much money they or their families have.

To learn more about the details of the provisions in the AFP, check out this Fact Sheet published by the White House here. The Pell Grant award will provide up to approximately $1,400 in additional assistance to low-income students. 

According to the Fact Sheet, “While nearly 7 million students depend on Pell 5 Grants, the grant has not kept up with the rising cost of college. Over the last 50 years, the value of Pell Grants has plummeted. The maximum grant went from covering nearly 80 percent of the cost of a four-year college degree to under 30 percent -- leading millions of low-income students to take out debt to finance their education.” 

As a current college student, I’ve appreciated what the Pell Grant did to cover part of the cost of my education. Even with other grants supplementing the cost of my bachelor of social work degree, I had to find a way to cover the remainder of my balance. An increase in Pell grant funding would help decrease the stress and financial burden that students face. Potential future students balk at the idea of going into tremendous debt. 

According to the White House Fact Sheet, “As of Fall 2020, high-minority and high-poverty high schools saw a 9.4 percent and 11.4 percent decline in college enrollment, respectively.” 

Increasing the Pell Grant will create new higher education opportunities for young people in West Virginia. According to the White House Fact Sheet, “An education beyond high school can lead to higher pay, financial stability, social mobility, and better health outcomes. It also has public benefits such as a reduction in crime rates and higher civic engagement.” I would add that graduation from college or a post-high school trade school program exposes students to diverse cultures, people, and ideas that help young West Virginians learn and grow and be ready to participate in democracy.   

The American Families Plan is an excellent start to accessible higher education and trade schools. This plan would further the education of students seeking higher education or a certificate. We need to let our Congressional Delegation know that this is important to West Virginia.

I also would advocate for another next step: to help students who have already graduated but may be in a lower-paying entry job or working in a lower-paying field, we need to provide student loan forgiveness. 

I support the increase to the Pell grant and 2 years of free community college. It wouldn’t benefit me since I no longer receive any grants, but the benefits would help future generations not struggle as Amanda and I did. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed. We wouldn’t only be supporting our youth; we would be supporting the betterment of our communities.