Congress still hasn’t taken care of that peaky Pell Grant problem that’s been building up since the summer.

In July the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies approved a bill that provided only $169.6 billion in discretionary funding. That meant that Pell was still about $5.7 billion short of the funding it needed to continue serving its recipients, students from low-income families. According to a piece by Pat Garofalo at the Center for American Progress’s Wonk Room:

For the 2011 fiscal year, which theoretically began at the beginning of this month, the Pell Grant program is facing a roughly $5.7 billion shortfall. If it isn’t closed, the maximum grant under the program will be cut by some $845 for the 2011 academic year. And this will come at a time when, due to the lingering effects of the Great Recession, there will be about 8.7 million Pell Grant recipients, up from 7.7 million in 2009.

Back in July Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, said essentially not to worry. The bill wouldn’t really be complete until January. This would give the committee plenty of time to come up with the cash, right?

Well maybe not. Especially not if Republicans manage to win significantly next week. As Garofalo points out:

Republicans in Congress might very well be unwilling to play ball. After all, their plan for the federal budget, assuming they were willing to actually follow through on it if given the chance, would cut about $9 billion from the Pell Grant program.

That would be bad. That would be very, very bad.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer