By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter and Rachel Gentry, Policy and Federal Relations Staff
Two bills to amend the Isakson-Roe Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act were introduced in Congress in recent weeks, representing an important step to make a number of improvements advocated for by the higher education community since the legislation was signed into law in December 2020.
Before the law went into effect Aug. 1, 2021, NASFAA detailed the several institutional disclosure requirements outlined in the legislation following discussion with officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which shed some light on how schools can comply or become in compliance with requirements. Among the most pressing issues in the bill are the consumer information requirements, which would require aid offices to provide estimates of costs and aid for the duration of the student’s program, and require institutions to have policies to inform students of federal aid eligibility prior to packaging loans, among others.
Since the bill was signed into law in December, NASFAA has worked with the higher education community to advocate for Congress to pass additional legislation to address some of the issues included in the original bill and to urge congressional leaders to extend coronavirus-related provisions to ensure student veterans can continue to receive benefits without interruption.
Related to the bill’s consumer information requirements, the higher education community, including NASFAA, has repeatedly requested that Congress pass technical corrections that will allow institutions to use the College Financing Plan, a form already used by many schools that was developed with consumer testing and community input, to fulfill the Isakson-Roe disclosure requirements.
Following months of advocacy, two separate but similar bills were introduced in Congress last month that would amend the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act to allow for a number of much-needed improvements, including those advocated for by NASFAA related to the consumer information requirements in Section 1018.
The Student Veteran COVID-19 Protection Act was introduced by Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), and the Responsible Education Mitigating Options and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act was introduced by a trio of Democratic lawmakers: Reps. David Trone (D-Md.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.).
Though the two proposals are largely similar, a number of slight differences would be reconciled before any final legislation is signed into law.
The changes included in both bills are intended to help institutions satisfy the Isakson-Roe bill’s consumer information requirements by using the College Financing Plan template. The revised language in the Student Veteran COVID-19 Protection Act introduced by Bost would allow for an exemption from the consumer information requirements included in the Isakson-Roe bill for schools that provide covered students with “information regarding costs of the program of education (including financial aid available to such covered individual) using a form or template developed by the Secretary of Education.” This new language should allow schools to use the existing College Financing Plan to satisfy the Isakson-Roe bill’s consumer information requirements, rather than having to develop additional disclosures, something NASFAA has strongly advocated for since the bill was first introduced.
In a letter sent to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House committees on veterans’ affairs last week, NASFAA, along with the American Council on Education (ACE) and several other higher education organizations, urged for the swift passage of bipartisan legislation to fix portions of the Isakson-Roe bill, pressing the Committees to ensure that Congress passes such a bill “ideally by Veterans Day and, in any event, no later than the congressional Thanksgiving recess.” The groups also expressed support for both the Student Veteran COVID-19 Protection Act and the REMOTE Act, stating, "These bills are largely similar and together, provide a framework for a strong bipartisan bill."
Additionally, the letter calls on Congress to extend coronavirus-related flexibilities granted to the VA, noting that without an extension, student veterans could see their benefits reduced or cut off.
“Colleges and universities are working hard to keep campuses open for in-person learning this year, but already we have seen limited cases of campuses reverting to online instruction in response to evolving health conditions in their communities,” the letter states. “Extending these provisions now will allow the secretary to make adjustments as needed and ensure that veterans’ benefits are not disrupted/affected.”
In another letter sent to Bost, NASFAA, along with more than a dozen other organizations, expressed appreciation for the bill’s introduction, stating that allowing the use of the College Financing Plan to satisfy consumer information requirements, and other technical corrections “address the implementation concerns raised by our college and universities while maintaining important protections for veterans.”
A letter was also sent by NASFAA and the other organizations thanking Reps. Trone, Takano, and Levin for their introduction of the REMOTE Act.
In both letters, the groups express support for ensuring that legislation to address issues within the Isakson-Roe bill is passed by Congress and enacted into law as quickly as possible. NASFAA plans to continue its advocacy around this important issue and will publish any developments surrounding the legislation in Today’s News.
Publication Date: 11/1/2021
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