Last week Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with six other Democratic senators, introduced a bill that seeks to remove barriers to higher education by simplifying how students apply for federal student aid. The bill, the Simplifying Financial Aid for Students Act of 2018, would send FAFSA applicants down one of three pathways based on their predicted financial strength, which mirrors many of the recommendations from NASFAA's FAFSA Working Group.
Under the bill, there would be four ways for a student to qualify to file a simplified FAFSA, which would greatly reduce the number of questions a low-income applicant would need to answer.
The requirements to file the simplified FAFSA would consist of:
The applicant, or the applicant's parent in the case of a dependent student, has not filed a federal tax return in the previous two years;
The applicant, or the applicant's parent, filed a 1040A, 1040EZ, or 1040 with no additional schedules or forms;
The applicant, or the applicant's parent in the case of a dependent student, had participated in a federal means-tested benefit program in the previous two years, or;
The applicant, applicant's spouse, or the applicant's parent in the case of a dependent student, is a dislocated worker, and the total adjusted gross income of the applicant and their spouse if applicable, or the dependent's parent, is less than $50,000.
Automatic Zero Expected Family Contribution
Dependent students whose parents participated in a federal means-tested benefits program, or an independent student (or their spouse) who has participated in a federal means-tested benefits program at any time during the previous two calendar years would be eligible for an automatic zero expected family contribution (EFC). Eligible means-tested benefit programs include but are not limited to, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicaid. The bill's FAFSA simplification plan differs slightly from NASFAA's proposal, which limits the first pathway only to recipients of SNAP or SSI.
The bill also automatically assigns a zero EFC to an applicant who has at least one parent (in the case of a dependent student) who is a dislocated worker, and whose family's adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than or equal to $36,000. This also applies to independent students, who themselves, or their spouse if applicable, are a dislocated worker, and meet the same AGI requirements.
For non-filers, any student whose income or family's income was less than or equal to $36,000 at any point during the previous two calendar years can expect to receive the maximum Federal Pell Grant for that award year, as well as an automatic zero EFC.
Determinations of Homelessness
The bill would revise the definition of independent student status by removing the language that limits determinations of homelessness by financial aid administrators (FAA) or a designated official to the year in which the FAFSA is submitted. Rather than requiring unaccompanied students to have their status re-determined every year, the bill would extend the validity of the determination through age 23 unless conflicting information exists, or the student informs the institution that he or she is no longer homeless.
The bill also includes a determination process for FAAs or a designated official to use to discern if an applicant is an unaccompanied youth. If a student identifies on the FAFSA application that they are an unaccompanied youth and can provide sufficient verification, such as a written statement or phone call with an authorized individual, then in the absence of any conflicting information, the FAA or designated official can make the dependency status decision without any more steps.
The bill also allows the decision to be made as early as the year before the award year the applicant is planning on attending the institution.
The bill removes both the drug conviction and selective service registration student eligibility provisions—changes NASFAA has long supported.
It also grants Title IV eligibility to undocumented "Dreamer" students, defined for these purposes as those who have been in the U.S. continuously for no less than four years, entered the U.S. prior to reaching age 18, have earned a high school diploma or associate's degree, or have served in the uniformed services. This proposal differs from the DREAM Act, which NASFAA has supported, as it would allow full Title IV eligibility, versus allowing participation in the federal student loan program only.
"We applaud Sen. Booker and the sponsors of this bill for taking an important first step in FAFSA simplification by leveraging information we already know about students and families, along with making better use of existing technologies to streamline and simplify the financial aid application process, particularly for the lowest-income students and families," said Megan Coval, NASFAA vice president of policy and federal relations. "We look forward to continuing to work with members of Congress to make the application process easier for students and families, while ensuring that financial aid programs are well-targeted."
Publication Date: 8/22/2018