Pell Grants, Planned Parenthood funding slammed, highway bill praised

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) commented Friday on the administration’s plan to make some state and federal prisoners eligible for Pell Grants.

“This may be a worthwhile idea for some prisoners, but the administration absolutely does not have the authority to do this without approval from Congress, because the Higher Education Act prohibits prisoners from receiving Pell Grants,” he said. “The Obama administration should focus on the existing prisoner job training and re-entry programs through the Depart-ments of Justice and Labor for which Congress provided nearly $300 million last year.”

He continued, “Congress can address changes to Pell grants as part of the Senate education committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.”

In 1992, amendments to the Higher Education Act banned Pell grants for prisoners serving a life sentence or sentenced to death. Congress completely banned prisoners from being eligible for Pell grants in 1994 through the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

The Senate education committee has held seven hearings as it works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which Alexander has said the committee intends to do this fall.

Alexander also spoke out Monday about legislation introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to redirect all federal taxpayer dollars currently spent at Planned Parenthood to thousands of centers across the country that provide women’s health services.

“Under this legislation, federal taxpayer dollars now spent at four Planned Parenthood centers in Tennessee would be spent instead at 173 Tennessee community health centers that provide services for women’s health, such as prenatal care and mammograms,” Alexander said. “These dollars could also be spent for women’s health services offered at state, county and local health departments.”

A procedural vote on this legislation failed Monday, 53-46. Sixty votes were needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster on bringing the legislationup for debate.

Planned Parenthood has been in the hot seat since the recent release of videos the organization’s spokesmen say were heavily edited by a partisan group. The topic was the sale of fetal tissue.

On July 30, Alexander voiced his support for a six-year reauthorization of federal highway programs.

“This multi-year highway bill will help Tennessee maintain good roads so jobs can keep coming and traffic jams can be addressed,” he said. “While not perfect, it is better than short-term patches that waste dollars and make it hard to set priorities.”

The Highway Trust Fund provides funding to states for highway and transit projects and is funded primarily by an 18.3 cent federal tax on gasoline and a 24.3 cent federal tax on diesel.

The trust fund does not take in enough revenue each year to fully pay for highway and transit projects.

The DRIVE Act, also known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act, is a six-year reauthorization of transportation programs to give states certainty and allow them to plan for construction projects.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 65-34.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) may be reached via his website’s contact page at alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email.