The FAFSA Fairness Act of 2019—a bicameral bill that would offer some of the country’s most vulnerable students a streamlined process for completing the FAFSA when they cannot provide parental information—was introduced Thursday in the Senate by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and in the House by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).
The bill would allow students who are unable to provide parent information because of situations such as parental abandonment, abuse, or neglect, and would be likely to meet the criteria for a dependency override, to submit their FAFSA after answering a single screening question, as a “provisionally independent” student. The student would receive an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) and estimated Pell Grant award amount based on the provisional independent status. The student’s Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) would indicate the provisional status, and schools would be required to reach out to admitted students to discuss the next steps for applying for a dependency override. Currently, a FAFSA submitted without parent information would be rejected, and the student would receive no EFC or Pell eligibility information on the Student Aid Report (SAR).
A similar bill introduced last spring, the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2018, included language that required institutions to use the provisional independent status and resulting EFC to calculate and deliver full provisional aid packages to students. Concerns were raised throughout the financial aid community about the possibility of this creating perceived “bait-and-switch” situations, where a student would ultimately not meet the criteria for the dependency override, and would receive a new, presumably reduced, aid package.
The revised bill requires the secretary of education to develop a screening question on the FAFSA for dependent students who do not include parental information, confirming that they want to apply for provisional independent student status, with final determinations to be made by institutions through professional judgement. The 2019 bill no longer requires institutions to provide a financial aid award based on provisional status, but does require schools to reach out to admitted students to help them resolve their dependency status. The revised bill also includes a list of acceptable documentation that a school may use when exercising professional judgement to override dependency status, but does not prescribe that acceptable documentation is limited to that list.
NASFAA applauds the continued efforts of Cummings, Cardin, and Van Hollen, and was pleased to be able to work together to rework the 2018 bill’s language to create a bill that best helps these deserving students, while allowing schools to maintain flexibility and latitude to work with each student individually based on his or her unique circumstances.
NASFAA looks forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to move this bill through the legislative process.
Publication Date: 2/8/2019