Democratic Lawmakers Aim to Help Students Without Access to Parental Information Complete the FAFSA

By Megan Walter, NASFAA Policy & Federal Relations Staff

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

Michelle C | 2/25/2019 3:29:39 PM

Unless and until we have a socialist system of higher education that is essentially free or very affordable it remains the family's primary responsibility to provide for their own based on their ability-not willingness. Yes society is well served with an educated population and it's cheaper to educate than incarcerate someone for a year or launch untold number of drone strikes without regard to the cost BUT generally speaking we can't care more than the "normal" family about the future of that student.

Marcie D | 2/12/2019 10:7:57 AM

This, unfortunately is another way for people to learn how to scam the federal laws of reporting. You could be living in your parents guest house, where daddy is a big time lawyer, kid driving a Mercedes and now we're giving them a free education just because daddy doesn't want to share his taxes..... If a parent is so bad to not share this information yet support their child, why should the taxpayers have to pay for that child's education. Somehow, someway it's got to be fair. Just like how we "trust" people to report same sex relationships even if they aren't married yet are living together, how are you going to "trust" these groups? There has to be an answer....but I don't believe an automatic 0 EFC is the way to go. How is that fair to the kid who's parents are struggling and the child doesn't get a 0 EFC and parent did the right thing. I'm just tired of rewarding people for NOT doing the right thing.....

Beth J | 2/11/2019 10:14:43 AM

We do not need another question on the FAFSA about "provisional independent", and providing them with an EFC and estimated Pell Award. I feel this is more misleading than what we have right now. I believe the current system is working because schools do request information from the student who does not provide parental information. We do allow the student's story to be told, and we make our decisions on a case-by-case plan.

What I find difficult is the student whose parent simply says they are not providing their financial information, as Ken Cole stated. And, it isn't just lower income students, it hits the entire spectrum of income levels; which leaves ALL of these students stranded. The idea of allowing the student's whose parent refuses to provide their income information the ability to access unsubsidized loan, and unsubsidized loans at the independent level, is perfect.

Please don't make this harder than it already is.

Beth J.

Barrington M | 2/8/2019 1:36:33 PM

This idea is past due. Simply put them through like a regular SAR, but flag them for Dependency Override Verification ( ED would have to create this new flag/verification criteria). This would still send them back to their financial aid advisor and still keep it on a case-by-case basis. And just as it currently is, if the student turns in whatever documentation is being requested, the school "satisfies" them. They are Independent. If not, they are dependent. The key here is "case-by-case". Needless to say, this would lead to a spike in applicants seeking to be declared independent. So what!!

Dori B | 2/8/2019 9:53:00 AM

Kenneth Cole, Thank you!! Your comments are right on target, couldn't have said it any better. I completely agree.
Dori Barron

Kenneth C | 2/8/2019 9:5:23 AM

This is an excellent idea, though it will be very important that the language on the FAFSA be very clear as to what -most likely- qualifies a student for a Dependency Override. This may also require colleges to start publicizing their Dependency Override policies.

What is not being addressed is the students whose parents simply won't file the FAFSA For them. It's not just wealthy parents. Most are either distrusting of the school, the DOE, or their own child. Common reasons are: they mistrust Federal Agencies, they don't want their child to attend college (for personal or religious reasons), they are tax-evaders and don't care about how that affects their child, or they are simply mad at their child for some other reason and just won't help them (not abuse). These parents, in-effect, paralyze their child's education. They block them from attending college because the child can't get ANY aid without the help of the parent, so the child gives up. While I don't believe these students should qualify for need-based aid, they should be able to file the FAFSA without Parental data and be AUTOMATICALLY eligible for Unsubsidized aid.

The rule allowing unsubsidized loans if the parent writes a letter stating they won't help, is preposterous. If the parent isn't willing to file the FAFSA they aren't going to be write a letter. At my very small public school I have 3-4 students every year who can't get even an Unsubsidized loan because of this rule.

Either get rid of the letter rule, or create a "Dependent Student without Parental Data Model". The current rule leaves these students without an option for college until they turn 24 years old.

Ken Cole

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