House Committee Advances GOP Bill That Would Cement October 1 FAFSA Launch Date

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Managing Editor

On Wednesday the House Education and the Workforce Committee advanced a bill by a vote of 34-6 that would officially require the Department of Education (ED) to make the annual FAFSA form available to students on October 1.

The legislation, offered by Rep. Erin Houchin (R-Ind.), aims to codify an earlier start to the financial aid application processing cycle that would prevent future aid cycles from being subject to the same delays that have plagued the 2024-25 process.

“Timely access to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is essential for making higher education accessible and affordable. The current flexibility in the FAFSA release date creates unnecessary obstacles and allows the Department of Education to string families along,” Houchin wrote in a press release. “The Department’s delays and technical issues during this year's FAFSA 'simplification' launch caused significant confusion and frustration for students and universities.”

Currently, ED is required by law to launch the FAFSA form by January 1 of the student’s year of planned enrollment. While the form has typically launched on October 1 since the 2017-18 aid cycle, the change was never enshrined in law, as was the use of prior-prior year income data in the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020.

That discrepancy came into play this year when the 2024-25 FAFSA was released at the end of December 2023 to accommodate changes that overhauled the form. But the rollout was hamstrung by technical glitches and delays that resulted in schools not being able to formulate aid packages until late March, creating significant confusion and barriers for students to access financial aid.

NASFAA has previously urged ED to commit to an October 1 launch date of the entire FAFSA system, including delivering applicant data to institutions and the ability to make corrections, and has long advocated for the October 1 application release date to be codified in law.

“This past year has shown us just how critical it is that all students are able to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible,” said Karen McCarthy, NASFAA’s Vice President of Public Policy & Federal Relations. “Even today, there are aspects of the 2024-25 FAFSA system that are not yet functional or working as intended.”

However, given that ED has not provided a timeline on when the entire FAFSA system will be available, forcing an October 1 launch date this year “does not guarantee a fully functioning form, and may in fact work against efforts to release a product that has been tested and found to run smoothly,” McCarthy continued.

“We need all stakeholders to work together in good faith to ensure this year’s mistakes are not repeated,” McCarthy said. “We continue to urge the Department of Education to ensure that the entire FAFSA system is up and running as intended as soon as possible and at the same time the application goes live — and to promptly communicate that timeline.”

During Wednesday’s mark-up, the committee also approved by voice vote an amendment from Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) that would require ED to certify to Congress, one month in advance, whether the FAFSA application will be ready by the October 1 deadline. If ED fails to certify the status of the FAFSA launch, or indicates that the form will not be ready by the deadline, the secretary of education would be required to provide testimony to the committee detailing how the delay will impact students.

Ranking member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) did not ultimately support the bill and argued that the legislation creates an “arbitrary” deadline for the department that could lead to another flawed form, since ED is not receiving additional resources.

“We all want FAFSA to work, and I want students to get the aid they’re entitled to in a timely manner,” Scott said. “What we don’t want is for the department to rush to meet arbitrary deadlines and push out a FAFSA form that – once again – has the same technical problems that students experienced this year when they could get it straight a couple of days after the deadline and release a form that actually works.”

However, Scott and other committee Democrats were critical of ED’s handling of the 2024-25 FAFSA launch, which led to a few committee Democrats supporting the Republican bill. Those Democrats argued that the change could give students extra time to review their financial aid offers.

The Senate unveiled a companion version of the bill, which was introduced on Monday by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. That bill is not yet scheduled for a committee mark-up.


Publication Date: 7/11/2024

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