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Democratic Proposal Would Expand Federal Financial Aid To Dream Students

For many students, federal financial aid makes the difference between being able to afford college and never attending. For Dreamer students, those resources are not available, leaving many of them struggling to pay for the college education they have dreamed of. Those struggles might be a little easier if a new proposal becomes law.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee released a spending proposal for higher education that would, for the first time ever, expand access to federal financial aid to students who hold Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, also known as Dreamers.

The proposal to open federal student aid to Dreamers was included in a funding plan that would increase funding for the Department of Education (ED) by 13 percent for the fiscal year 2023. The plan also includes a $500 dollar increase to the maximum Pell Grant and increases funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving Institutions (MSIs). Additionally, the funding plan would increase funding for childcare support for students and provide additional funds for adult and technical education.

The bill was approved on a party line vote of 32-24.

College is hard enough to pay for even with access to federal student aid; providing dreamers access to federal financial aid would make a massive difference in helping them afford college. Currently, dreamers are not eligible for any federal financial aid, although some states, including California, and Texas, provide state financial aid grants to dream students. Access to federal aid would give access to Pell grants, federal student loans, and work-study funds.

The Obama administration implemented DACA to provide support to students who had been brought to the US as children by their parents. The law provides work authorization and protection from deportation for approximately 650,000 people. However, this represents a minority of potentially eligible, with some estimates suggesting there are as many as 3.6 million dreamers. Many did not apply for the program or aged into it after it stopped accepting new applications.

DACA has faced multiple legal challenges and setbacks, with recipients often wondering if their legal status will change at the drop of a hat. The Trump administration tried—unsuccessfully— to end the program multiple times. More recently, the Biden administration has said it intends to strengthen the program to ensure that DACA recipients have greater certainty over their future. A court ruling that blocked any new DACA applications from being processed has made it impossible to expand the programs.

Dreamer students have campaigned for years to receive access to federal student aid to provide access to higher education, rightly arguing that the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. Since DACA was implemented, recipients have become more likely to obtain a degree, increase their earning potential, and become more likely to enter into professional fields.

The current proposal remains a long way from becoming law at the moment. The house still must vote on the proposal, where it stands a reasonable chance of passing. The proposal will likely face more significant opposition in the Senate, where many Republicans are likely to oppose expanding federal student aid programs, particularly for undocumented students.

Dreamers continue to face huge uncertainty over their futures, with their status used as a perennial political football. Improving federal financial aid policy to support dreamers would go a long way to improve their long term security. Providing support to help dreamers pay for the education they strive for is the clearest example of helping fulfill the American Dream.

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