Life for an ex-convict can be quite challenging. Especially, when looking for a job. Getting an education becomes the only rational way for a prosperous and bright future. But, as an ex-felon, it can be a challenge for you to find grants to pay for your college education. Fortunately, Pell Grants can be of immense help in fulfilling your financial needs, provided that you qualify for it.
This article will cover everything about Pell Grants for felons to help you understand what it’s all about, the eligibility requirements, and how you can apply for it.
What is Pell Grant?
Pell Grants are a form of subsidy the federal government offers each year to individuals who need it for their college education. The best part of this federal aid is that it is non-repayable, except under specific circumstances.
However, do note that the federal student grant or Pell Grant is only limited to those who display significant financial need, have not received a bachelor’s, professional, or a graduate degree. In some instances, a person enrolled in specific post-baccalaureate programs may qualify for the federal Pell Grant.
It’s important to note that you can only get the Pell Grant for twelve semesters, which equals to six years. It is also worth noting that you must meet some eligibility criteria to be able to qualify for federal Pell aid.
Lastly, if you qualify for FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant), you can receive almost $4,000 each year as additional grant money.
Pell Grant Eligibility
There is no doubt the federal Pell Grant is one of the best ways to acquire funding for your college education without having to repay back. But, as mentioned earlier, you’ll have to meet certain eligibility standards in order to receive this financial support.
Here is a list of requirements you must fulfill in order to qualify for Pell Grant:
- Financial Standing: To receive financial aid through the Pell Grant program, you must show exceptional financial need. For this, you will have to apply for FAFSA, where the Department of Education will evaluate your financial information, which includes the assets and income of you and your family.
- Academic Progress: It is a must that you retain a satisfactory academic GPA to meet Pell Grant eligibility.
- Legal Status: In order to be eligible, you shouldn’t be liable to any sort of legal action, must not have arrests history, and most importantly, should not have any felony conviction related to sexual offenses or drugs.
- Citizenship: You will also have to be a US citizen to be eligible for this grant. If you aren’t, you must be an eligible non-resident.
- School’s Participation: If the school you are applying for is not one of the participating institutions of the Pell Grant program, you will not be eligible to receive any financial support.
- Special Circumstances: If any of your parents have died in Afghanistan or Iraq while serving the US military, you will be eligible for this financial aid. Also, intellectually disabled individuals can qualify for a Pell grant.
In order for you to receive funding through Pell Grants, you must also qualify for any other federal aid. It is very important that you provide honest information about your finances or assets when filling the FAFSA form. If any of the information is found to be false, your application will be summarily rejected and you won’t be eligible for any financial loan or grant.
Can a Felon Get a Pell Grant?
For felons, the number of financial aid for education is very limited. However, ex-offenders can be eligible for obtaining Pell Grants under certain circumstances.
Most of the eligibility limitations will, however, be lifted almost immediately after you’ve been released. In fact, you can apply for the grant before you are even released. By doing this, your aid will be processed sooner, allowing you to pay for school on time.
You are also eligible for this aid if you’re on parole or probation, or is staying in a halfway home. You will, however, be ineligible to receive the federal aid if you’re locked up in a state or federal penal institution.
Your eligibility can also be affected if you are liable to an obligatory civil commitment, after you have been released, for a non-forcible or forcible sexual offense. Drugs or sex-related felonies may limit your chances of receiving this financial aid. Other offenses generally don’t restrict you from receiving Pell Grants.
For drug-related felonies, your application for Pell Grant may get disqualified if the offense took place while you were getting federal student aid (loans, work-study, or grants). When you fill the FAFSA form, you will be questioned whether the felony took place while you were obtaining federal student grants or loans.
If your answer is positive, you will get a worksheet to help you discern whether your conviction restricts your eligibility for financial grants. There is another option if you don’t qualify. You can reclaim your eligibility status by completing an authorized drug rehabilitation program successfully. Alternatively, you will have to clear two drug tests conducted by an authorized drug rehabilitation program.
A Few Things to Note
Do remember that if you reclaim eligibility during the same award period, you must immediately report it to the respective financial aid office. This will help you receive any grant you might qualify for.
However, if you were convicted for drugs after submitting the FAFSA form, there is a chance for you to lose the eligibility. You might even need to repay any federal fundings you received during the ineligibility period.
Other two cases where your eligibility may get revoked due to drug-related convictions include:
- If you are convicted twice for selling drugs.
- For possession of drugs, you will receive three strikes. If you cross this limit, your aid will be revoked completely.
Pell Grant Calculating
How Much Can You Obtain?
There isn’t an exact figure of the amount you can receive as a grant. This is because the amount varies every year. That said, the maximum grant the federal government awarded to its student for the academic year 2019-2020 is $6,195.
The amount of grant you receive will depend on various factors like:
- Whether you plan on attending school for the whole academic year or less.
- Whether you have part-time or full-time student status.
- Your attendance (which will be determined by the school you attend).
- Your EFC (Family Expected Contribution), which is your parent’s or guardian’s financial strength.
Once you are eligible for the aid, in certain circumstances, you can get up to 150% of your financial grant for an academic year.
For instance, if you qualify to obtain a Pell Grant of $2000 for the academic year, and have applied for a full-time course for the fall as well as spring semesters, then you will likely get $1000 each for both semesters. However, under certain conditions, you might even get an extra $1000 for the fall semester (thereby receiving 150 percent of your total award). This situation is called “year-round Pell”.
When Will You Get Paid?
If you qualify for the financial aid, you will get the total amount of the award you qualify. Every year, the Department of Education provides enough funds to the schools that participate in the program to award to all its qualified students. Also, your award amount won’t be affected by any other student aid you might qualify.
Additionally, you may qualify for larger federal student aid if any one of your parents or your guardian has served and lost his/her life in the US military in Afghanistan or Iraq, after 9/11. This criterion will apply to you if you were 24 years old or below and had enrolled in a technical school or college at least half-time at the time of their dead.
Are Pell Grants Tax-free?
By and large, Pell Grants are completely free to use for your academic needs. However, under certain conditions, your award money might be considered as taxable income.
To keep your Pell Grant free of taxes, you must apply for a degree course. Secondly, you must use the awarded funds only for your educational expenses. This includes the school supplies, books, fees, and tuition needed for your course. However, you are not supposed to use the grant money or scholarship to cover housing. If you do, it will not be regarded as a qualified expense.
Apart from that, an important point worth noting is that only required supplies and books are considered qualified. E.g., if you are required to purchase two books for a class along with three recommended ones, the award money must only be used for the required books.
You can still use it to buy the recommended ones, but you will have to add it to your taxes. Any scholarship or Pell Grant money that isn’t utilized for qualified expenses are considered taxable.
Do You Need to Reimburse Your Pell Grant?
In most cases, you won’t have to repay your grant money. However, if you fail to complete your course or drop out before the academic year ends, you will have to pay a certain portion of the money you’ve been awarded.
You will also need to repay the grant if you change your course load from full-time to half-time. You are also expected to refund all or half of the award money you are no longer “earning” via attendance.
Also, when you reduce your study load status to half-time, you will only receive half of the grant you qualify for. For instance, if the new credit hour is 50 percent less than the school’s minimum requirement for their full-time course, the school will only give you 50 percent of the total Pell Grant money.
If you are liable to repay back the full or half of your scholarship money, your school will notify you and give you 45 days to respond either by paying the owed amount or by agreeing to another payment option.
What Happens to Unused Pell Grant Money?
If your Pell grant funds exceed the amount required to pay for your school’s tuition, and other expenses during the disbursement period, you will get back the unused Pell Grant money. Each college will have different procedures and schedules for paying your refund. Following are three common ways most schools rely on for paying Pell Grant refunds:
- Direct Deposit: You may get an option to receive your unused grant refund into your respective bank account through direct deposit. For this, you will have to give your routing and bank account details to the respective financial aid office.
- Check: Some schools disburse the unused Pell Grant money via check to your preferred address.
- Student Accounts: Another option that most schools offer is to have your leftover balance sent to your school student’s debit account.
Just keep yourself updated regarding your account balances to determine if you qualify for a refund. Your school may have an online site where you can easily monitor what the school owes you. If your balance shows that you qualify for a refund, notify your college financial aid office.
What Do You Need to Do to Maintain Your Pell Grant?
Typically, it’s not that hard to keep earning your grant.
- Firstly, you need to continue studying for the baccalaureate program at a non-foreign institute to keep receiving your financial aid.
- Secondly, you will have to complete filling the FAFSA application for every academic year.
- Lastly, you need to maintain a satisfactory GPA, complete specific credit score each year, and focus on completing your course successfully.
All of these will eventually depend on the institute you will be attending. Once you earn your baccalaureate degree, you will no longer be qualified to receive a student grant.
How to Apply for Pell Grant as an Ex-Felon?
To apply for this federal student aid, you will have to complete FAFSA first.
While filling your FAFSA application, it’s very crucial that you provide correct information about your conviction. Similarly, you must provide honest details about your income and your family or guardian’s expected contribution.
By filling FAFSA, you might have an opportunity to receive other educational grants or loans if you are ineligible for the Pell Grant.
While it is certainly a huge challenge to return to college after being incarcerated, don’t let it stop you from improving your life. Getting an education will open a lot of doors for your career, help you make good money and live a comfortable life.