Several dozen congressional lawmakers on Thursday urged the Obama administration to use its existing authority to allow students to apply for federal financial aid based on their family’s income from two years earlier instead of the immediately previous year.
In a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, 51 Democrats and 2 Republicans said the Education Department should switch the aid application to what is known as “prior-prior year” tax information.
Requiring students to provide tax information for the prior year has created a “highly disjoined process timeline” that especially harms low-income and first-generation students, the lawmakers said. The problem is that many colleges require students to apply for federal aid before they are able to file their taxes for the previous year.
“We do not need to wait to provide students and families much-needed relief,” the letter says. “The Department can and should improve the process of filling out the FAFSA right now.”
The change to prior-prior year data is backed by a wide range of groups, including student and consumer advocates, college access organizations, and associations representing colleges and universities.
Education Department officials have indicated that they support the change but are concerned about its financial cost to the government.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, also backs prior-prior year data and has included it in his student aid simplification bill. But he did not sign on to Thursday’s letter calling on Duncan to make that change immediately.
“Senator Alexander supports the idea,” an aide said in an email. “But thinks it should be done in a fiscally responsible way within the context of a full reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is underway in the Senate education committee.”
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