December 22, 2020


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and leading business organizations join in commending Congress for reaching a deal to restore Pell Grants access for incarcerated students. The deal comes after Congress banned aid for prison education systems 26 years ago.

The legislation, which was introduced by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and by U.S. Representatives Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and French Hill (R-Ark.), is included in the year-end spending bill as part of a small package of higher education policies that a group of bipartisan leaders from the House and Senate education committees negotiated over the last several weeks.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, JPMorgan Chase, and Verizon Communications, along with a coalition of partners, have been working together over the last several years to have the REAL Act included in a Higher Education Act reauthorization bill, but comprehensive reauthorization has remained elusive. Then, earlier this year, the Chamber included the REAL Act on as part of its Equity of Opportunity Agenda. While a comprehensive Higher Education Act reauthorization is still needed, the passage of the REAL Act is a significant achievement.

“The reinstatement of Pell Grants for incarcerated students is a significant step in helping the transition and re-entry process,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We know Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested, convicted, and experience lengthy prison sentences. It is also harder for Black Americans to bounce back economically after incarceration. There is much more work to be done in addressing opportunity gaps that perpetuate broader inequalities in our society, but ensuring that our incarcerated population has broader access to education helps individuals that are so often held back, and in turn will make our communities, businesses, and economy stronger.”

Research shows individuals who participate in education programs while incarcerated are 43 times less likely to return to prison. Education is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent recidivism yet access to education and training programs while incarcerated has been very limited and re-entry into the labor market is one of the most difficult challenges facing individuals as they reintegrate into their communities. The passage of the REAL Act will change that, as having a post-secondary education will help make allow individuals to leave prison with the in-demand skills employers are seeking when making hiring decisions.

“Helping incarcerated students access Pell grants is an important step towards removing barriers to jobs and economic opportunity for people with criminal backgrounds. By being able to participate in education and training for in-demand skills, they will be better prepared for stable jobs and well-positioned to provide for themselves and their families,” said Heather Higginbottom, President, JPMorgan Chase PolicyCenter.

“Pell Grants have made higher education attainable for millions of Americans. We are pleased that Congress has reinstated Pell Grants for incarcerated students. We all know that education empowers. Reinstituting the eligibility for incarcerated students to receive Pell Grants will reduce recidivism and create a more educated and competitive workforce,” said Donna Epps, SVP of Public Policy and Strategic Alliances, Verizon Communications.

For more than a quarter-century, one sentence in federal law has prohibited people in state and federal prison from receiving Pell Grants. The change strikes that line from law and will now allow incarcerated people to use federal dollars to pay for college while in prison.

The restoration of Pell Grants for students in prison has had growing bipartisan support in recent years.

Learn more about the U.S. Chamber’s Equality of Opportunity Initiative and explore the research and more details on the policy recommendations and business solutions, visit America’s Opportunity Gaps: By the Numbers, a research report on systemic barriers to equality of opportunity for Black Americans and people of color.JPMorgan Chase is committed to giving people with criminal backgrounds a second chance by supporting their reentry into the workforce, community and local economies through a public policy agenda, community investments and an enhanced hiring strategy.Verizon endorses passage of The REAL Actwhich gives incarcerated people access to higher education. Education is more than a worthwhile investment. It’s vital to our country's continued growth and prosperity.