Top House Education Committee Democrat Expresses Concern Over Further FAFSA Processing Delays

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

In a recent letter to the Department of Education (ED), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, requested updated information to detail the department’s “readiness to support” students and families through the 2024-25 FAFSA cycle.

Scott, who was a lead sponsor and negotiator of the bipartisan FAFSA simplification legislation that made substantial changes to the form along with the overall application experience, said he was concerned that the majority of FAFSA processing will continue to be delayed for the 2024-25 application cycle.

The FAFSA rollout, which was initially released through a soft launch at the end of December, has experienced a number of reported glitches, errors, and issues with access to the application. The rollout has already garnered criticism from other leaders in Congress, with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, accusing ED of botching thelaunch.

In Friday’s letter, Scott expressed concern that the delays could impact institutions’ ability to finalize financial aid offers and cited Federal Student Aid’s (FSA) recent announcement that it will not be able to process FAFSA forms and send Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) to institutions of higher education until later this month.

“This processing delay will hinder institutions’ ability to promptly communicate with students regarding any additional information needed prior to finalizing aid packages,” Scott wrote. “Many students are expected to commit to a school May 1st. The delay in the FAFSA processing will mean millions of students will be expected to make a life-altering decision in a very short period of time or without the full context of information to inform that decision.”

Scott recognized that the form’s overhaul was a “tremendous undertaking” and requested that ED provide updated information on the department's ability to respond to ongoing concerns surrounding the FAFSA.

However, Scott wrote that he was “deeply concerned” that FSA will not begin processing paper FAFSA forms until February, which he said was vital for students who have limited access to broadband and for incarcerated individuals who utilize the paper form.

In his letter, Scott requested details on ED’s customer service plan for families and students concerned about the ongoing FAFSA delays, guidance the department will provide to stakeholders who support students completing the FAFSA, and copies of the communications  sent to FAFSA applicants regarding the changes and delays to the financial aid process.

Additionally, Scott asked if ED would alter any of the verification procedures in order to reduce the burden on institutions and financial aid offices during peak FAFSA-processing time.

Scott also requested details on the steps ED is taking to support students who rely on the paper form and how they are collaborating with the Bureau of Prisons to support incarcerated students.

Last, Scott asked ED if there would be any components of the FAFSA Simplification Act that will not be finalized for the 2024-25 FAFSA, and if there will be any further delays to the rollout.

Scott stressed that the overall goal to simplify the FAFSA was to make the application process for federal student aid easier, fairer, and more effective for working families.

“Unfortunately, the benefits of the FAFSA Simplification Act will be deferred for many students, given the anticipated delay to FAFSA processing,” Scott wrote.  “Already, implementation has been delayed from the 2023-2024 award year to the 2024-2025 award year to ensure that all of the complex moving parts are properly addressed.”

The letter called on the department to provide Scott with answers to his questions no later than February 1, 2024.

 

Publication Date: 1/17/2024


Aesha E | 1/18/2024 11:19:41 AM

I'm generally apt to agree with Scott but I would also like to know if he and congress asked how long this would take (and what ED told them), and how he advocated for further funding to ensure this went smoothly.

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