Amid Government Shutdown, Questions Arise Over IRS Processes

Department of Education (ED) operations and student aid program funding continue without disruption, even as a partial federal government shutdown enters its second week. The same cannot be said, however, for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), where agency contingency plans categorized income verification and transcript services as "non-excepted" activities, and therefore subject to disruption.

The "Get Transcript Online" and "Get Transcript by Mail" services have both been offline since at least the beginning of the week. NASFAA reached out to federal officials on Monday, but has been unable to determine whether these system outages are casualties of the federal shutdown or truly just part of a larger system maintenance issue. Additional services that require IRS staff processing will most certainly be delayed, if not discontinued, until Congress and the President reach an agreement to fund government operations. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) continues to function, according to ED officials.

At the Federal Student Aid conference in November, ED announced that copies of tax returns and written statements of non-filing would be acceptable for verification purposes in lieu of IRS tax return transcripts and verification of non-filing forms, respectively. To reduce the impact of the IRS shutdown on students, families, and schools, NASFAA has urged ED to release written guidance as soon as possible.


Publication Date: 1/2/2019

David S | 1/9/2019 1:39:08 PM

OK, it's not often that we have breaking news in the financial aid world, but we do, and it's good news. ED has published guidelines (despite, I suppose, not getting paid) at can accept good old fashioned copies of tax returns.

Thank you to our friends at ED. We're all thinking of you, we know that life can't be easy right now.

Ashraf M | 1/9/2019 11:58:24 AM

It is not just the normal IRS transcript request services that are down. The IVES, the IRS's pay-as-you-go system, has also been down (although, I did read something on yesterday's FA-listserv that it may be back up). I've been unable to fax my school's IVES requests since Christmas (the IVES fax line had busy signal). Considering the time, expense, and just general inconvenience to all parties involved due to these disruptions (and, here, I use the plural because this happened before with the IRS DRT outage of the 2017-18 award year), maybe ED should just allow schools to permanently collect signed tax returns again, and relegate the request for IRS transcripts as optional/school discretion.

Aesha E | 1/9/2019 11:36:55 AM

As always, appreciate the snark... but for the half-serious part of you, they explicitly stated at FSA that schools cannot use tax returns until official written guidance is released. This is consistent with prior years, and makes sense given the stipulations that were put into place for prior years... but at this point it's been about 45 days since that announcement was made, and this should have been at the top of their list of priorities to begin with, so I am stumped as to why it's taken so long. My hope--though I realize it's a long shot--is that this guidance they're planning to release is indefinite, essentially abolishing the tax return transcript requirement. If that's the case, then I may forgive them for taking so unreasonably long to get this guidance out. (As a side note, you can bet they will never make an announcement like this again until they're about 3 hours from posting it.)

What particularly exasperates me is this sudden revelation by IRS/ED that the Get Transcript option is down for "scheduled annual maintenance" and will be available once again on January 14. A two-week period of scheduled annual maintenance? Who received advanced warning of this? The first I read about the "scheduled maintenance" claim was in a blurb in Politico Morning Education yesterday. That same newsletter said that Get Transcript has been down since late last month, thus the maintenance requires MORE than two weeks. There's no excuse for not having shared this information far in advance if it was scheduled maintenance and not an unexpected service interruption. Even if related to the shutdown, that's information that could have been shared. It's completely unacceptable, and I smell a rat.

Christen B | 1/9/2019 10:38:22 AM

I don't know David S but I agree and that was hilarious...I needed to laugh, thanks!

David S | 1/9/2019 9:31:54 AM

OK, so does the announcement made at FSA constitute official guidance on allowing tax returns in lieu of transcripts? Or is it not official until we have a Dear Colleague letter? I mean, we apparently have federal policy established by 6am caps-lock rage tweets, does that not establish new (much lower) standards? And while I'm being snarky, I'm also being serious (because I can multitask).

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