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ED Enables State Agencies to Use FAFSA Data to Connect Students With Federal Benefits

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

While the rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA has been littered with errors, troubleshooting, and amended timelines, the Department of Education (ED) is also targeting resources to increase FAFSA completion rates and enrollment in means-tested benefit programs by allowing state grant agencies to use application data to connect with college access groups, as well as students.

The guidance was provided in a recent electronic announcement, which focuses on efforts to bolster FAFSA completion and gives states grant agencies the option to pull limited data from the FAFSA form that can be used to inform students of various means-tested federal benefits that may be available to them.

In order to improve FAFSA completion rates, which are currently lagging at a significant rate,  ED made revisions to the 2024-25 SAIG Participation Agreement so state grant agencies will have the ability to disclose FAFSA Filing Status Information — such as the student’s name, date of birth, ZIP code, and FAFSA processing date — to specific entities for the purpose of promoting FAFSA completion.

Entities that are eligible to receive this data include grantees of the department under the TRIO and (GEAR UP) programs, as well as American Indian and Alaska Native Educational entities.

Additionally, nonprofit college access organizations may be eligible on a case-by-case basis if they meet certain criteria that ED has outlined.

The announcement also aims to promote access to a number of basic needs services by allowing state grant agencies to utilize FAFSA data like the applicant’s Student Aid Index, Pell Grant status, or email address to conduct outreach with new and returning college students.

The federal means-tested benefits programs covered in the outreach initiative include the 

Affordable Care Act; Affordable Connectivity Program; Child Tax Credit; Medicaid; and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

State grant agencies would need to obtain explicit written consent from an applicant or FAFSA contributor if they want to disclose FAFSA data to other agencies that handle applications for means-tested federal benefits programs.

According to ED, state grant agencies that wish to participate in these optional initiatives will be able to do so “later this month,” after ED releases the new SAIG Participation Agreement and interested states sign it.

The department also told stakeholders that the permissions for FAFSA Filing Status Information sharing are the only changes to the SAIG Participation Agreement.

Tuesday’s announcement clarifies that the new SAIG Agreement applies only to states and that  institutions of higher education may continue to use FAFSA data to conduct student outreach about means-tested benefits programs without having to sign and execute new SAIG agreements.

ED has yet to release complete updated guidance on FAFSA data use and disclosure with respect to the changes made in the FAFSA Simplification Act, but NASFAA reminds members of earlier guidance on Federal Taxpayer Information (FTI) that should be followed.

 

Publication Date: 4/10/2024


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