Community and Government Report, March 2009

Pell grants poised for additional funding
President Barack Obama signed the 2009 omnibus federal budget, which is designed to fund all federal agencies. The bill provides $347 million in new funding for Pell Grants. This, on top of the increase in Pell Grant money from the stimulus bill passed last month, will help Pell Grant-eligible Saint Mary's students in the fall. According to Priscilla Muha, director financial aid at Saint Mary's, "This double increase in Pell is wonderful news in light of the fact that I am anticipating having an increase in Pell-eligible students due to the softening economy." Currently, more than 600 Saint Mary's students receive some form of Pell Grant assistance.

The FY 2009 appropriations bills include a total of more than $3 billion in Pell Grant funding, enough to increase the maximum award to individual students by $119 (and reach the 2009 maximum award of $5,350).

Yellow ribbon program
As Brother President Ronald Gallagher mentioned in his State of the College address on March 4, , Saint Mary's is very interested in participating in the new Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP). The YRP is part of the post-9/11 GI Bill passed by Congress. As we understand it, this legislation will allow participating private institutions to have a portion of their tuition paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While final regulations are still being developed, this is what we understand so far:

If a qualifying veteran is accepted at Saint Mary's, the VA will pay tuition and fees up to the highest amount of in-state public schools (in our case, UC Berkeley). Saint Mary's would then waive the remaining amount of tuition and the VA would reimburse Saint Mary's 50 percent of the waived amount. The College has taken the first steps of participation by completing a survey of interest.

Tauscher to State Department
In a surprising announcement, the Obama administration has appointed 10th Congressional District Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, to be the assistant secretary of state for arms control. If confirmed by the Senate, Tauscher will resign her seat and join the Obama administration. Unlike with U.S. Senate vacancies, a state governor must call a special election to fill vacant U.S. House seat. The 10th congressional district includes the Lamorinda area as well as Saint Mary's College. Look for a more thorough analysis in my next report.

Saint Mary's students meet with Calif. State Senator Loni Hancock to discuss the Cal Grant.State Government
The state of California has finally approved the state budget. Fortunately, Cal Grants were funded and escaped the line-item veto pen. The competitive Cal Grant component was left untouched and the total grant was left at $9,708. While the Cal Grants have not seen appreciable increases since 2001, the grant was not reduced.

On March, 12 I traveled to Sacramento with six Saint Mary's students who met with several area legislators and explained to them in very personal terms the impact Cal Grant has on their lives. "If it were not for the assistance I received from Cal grants, I would not be able to attend college, I would be on welfare," Saint Mary's student Linda Smith stated flatly to Assembly member Sandre Swanson and Senator Loni Hancock.

The Town of Moraga announced the selection of D. Michael Segrest as its new town manager. Segrest, 62, comes to Moraga from Colorado. Segrest hit the ground on March 23. In addition to running the town, he will have some high-level positions to fill such as a new chief of police.

Road delays:
You may have noticed some delays on St. Mary's Road over the last few weeks. According to Chris Carpenter of the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central San), the agency has been upgrading and repairing sewer lines in Lafayette. This portion was to be completed by March 1, but technical and soil problems required the district to postpone this project until sometime in the near future. In the meantime if you have any questions regarding this project, please feel free to contact Chris Carpenter at (925) 229-7200.

Gael Rail:
Beginning March 22, the County Connection modified many of its routes to reflect the economic slowdown as well as ridership changes. However, service will actually increase to the campus. The current Gael Rail Sunday service begins at noon, but the new schedule will have bus service begin at 9:20 a.m. For more information click here