Bipartisan Group Urges Education Department to Simplify Financial Aid Process
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), along with U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), led a bipartisan group of 53 Members of Congress in sending a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan urging him to use his authority to allow the use of data from the second preceding tax year, also known as “prior-prior year” data when students are filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in applying to college or university. Currently, many students across the country are receiving their college admissions letters without the accompanying financial aid award information they need to compare college options and costs.
“Earlier and more accurate financial aid award information would allow students and families, and especially low-income and first generation students, to make better-informed decisions about their educational careers,” the Members of Congress wrote. “Unfortunately, the current limitation on the tax data students and families can use on the FAFSA has created a highly disjointed process and timeline. The complexity of the financial aid application process also undermines educational aspirations, enrollment, and persistence. Resolving this situation will be an important priority for our work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. However, we do not need to wait to provide students and families much-needed relief. The Department can and should improve the process of filling out the FAFSA right now.”
Most families’ incomes do not change significantly from year-to-year, yet the current process forces applicants to wait until January 1 of each year—far after many college application deadlines—to complete the FAFSA in the same year they plan to enroll using the prior year’s tax data. When the FAFSA becomes available, many students and their families struggle to obtain tax documents quickly enough for dozens of local, state and private grant deadlines. The short window provided for filing taxes before filling out the FAFSA places students and families in a difficult situation with few good options.
Under their authority, the Department can allow students to use prior-prior year data, which is more likely to be on file and much easier to import directly into the FAFSA. This will speed up the application process and help reduce the burden of verification for documenting their financial situation and aid eligibility. Prior-prior year data is also not likely to have a significant effect on students’ financial aid awards. Financial aid administrators, admissions officers, state grant agencies, and college access programs also strongly support using this data.
Joining Baldwin, Mikulski, Bennet, Booker, and Murray in the Senate were: Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Edward Markey (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Angus King, Jr. (I-ME), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).
Joining Pocan and Doggett in the House were: Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Larry Buschon (R-IN), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Ron Kind (D-WI), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), William Keating (D-MA), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Sander Levin (D-MI), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Dennis Ross (R-FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Andre Carson (D-IN), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Bill Foster (D-IL), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Dan Kildee (D-MI).