News: Federal Policy & Advocacy

Congress Passes Bill to Simplify FAFSA, Permanently Reauthorize MSI Funding

Wednesday, December 11, 2019  
Posted by: Raymond AlQaisi, Policy and Advocacy Manager
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The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amended version of the FUTURE Act on Dec. 10, 2019. The final vote tally was 319-96. (The image above is missing one yea vote.)

Update, Dec. 19, 2019: President Trump has signed the FUTURE Act into law.

In a stunning progression of events yesterday, Congress passed an amended version of the FUTURE Act (H.R. 5363). As NCAN explained late last week, when negotiations in the Senate finally gave way to a compromise, this legislation will permanently reauthorize funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions, while simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and income-driven student loan repayment process.

Following bipartisan leadership in the Senate by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the bill passed overwhelmingly in the House. The timeliness of this action is succinctly put by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) in his remarks on the House floor, where he recognized both NCAN and College Forward, an NCAN member, for our efforts to promote FAFSA simplification.

This significant piece of legislation is on the verge of enactment. All it needs now is the president’s signature, and President Trump has already voiced his support via Twitter.

The impact of this legislation will be monumental. In response to the bill’s passage, NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook said: “The FUTURE Act will help close the equity gap in postsecondary attainment by simplifying the financial aid application process for millions of current and future students, which the National College Access Network has long championed. This historic agreement will reduce the FAFSA questions by 20% and lay the groundwork for further streamlining.”

Currently, 43% of high school seniors do not complete the FAFSA, thereby forgoing approximately $2.6 billion in federal Pell Grant money annually. Without financial aid, these students are less likely to enroll in postsecondary education. The FUTURE Act could have a dramatic positive effect on FAFSA completion, as the process would be far simpler for some 20 million American families, according to an estimate from the Senate Education Committee.

Moreover, the current barriers to completing the FAFSA depend on a family’s financial situation and tax-filing status. This legislation would do wonders for all types of filers by amending the Internal Revenue Code 6103 to allow for direct data sharing between federal agencies. As of now, certain financial aid applicants must go through an arduous process to confirm that they do not file taxes by requesting separate documentation from the IRS. This law would reduce that burden for millions of applicants, per the Senate Education Committee.

Lastly, we expect to see a dramatic decrease in the number of financial aid applicants selected for the burdensome audit-like process of FAFSA verification. This is because students’ verified income information will now come directly from the IRS, reducing the chance that erroneous information will be submitted on the FAFSA.

Verification is common, with half of Pell Grant-eligible students being flagged each year to prove the information they provided on their FAFSA is accurate. But, for a variety of reasons, not all students are able to complete this process. NCAN refers to this scenario as verification melt. Twenty-eight percent of potentially Pell Grant-eligible students ultimately did not receive federal aid for the 2017-18 year. This melt number has increased by a few percentage points each year over the past three cycles. The FUTURE Act would address the troubling problem of verification melt because all FAFSA filers would have pre-verified information transferred directly from the IRS, hopefully rooting out the issues that lead to a verification flag.

This bipartisan and commonsense legislation should be celebrated as a major first step for FAFSA simplification. If the FUTURE Act is enacted into law, students will more easily access the federal financial aid for which they qualify and continue their admirable pursuit of a postsecondary education.

(Image via C-SPAN)