New FAFSA Bill Would Help Low-Income Students Access Financial Aid

By Rosa Garcia

As college costs continue to rise, millions of low-income students, particularly students of color, are struggling to make ends meet. The Simple FAFSA Act, introduced last week, would increase support for working students, streamline the financial aid process, and expand access to more low-income students. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Susan Davis (D-CA), Gregorio Sablan (D-NMI-AL), and Ami Bera (D-CA).

CLASP applauds many of the bill’s provisions:

The bill increases support for working students.  The bill reduces the “work penalty,” enabling working students to keep a greater share of their earnings, complete their degrees more quickly, and reduce their student loan debt. It increases by 35 percent the Income Protection Allowance (IPA), a method used to determine the amount of income students can earn that isn’t counted against their eligibility for Pell and other need-based federal financial aid programs. In addition to increases for student parents, the new IPA will be:

  • $9,010 for a dependent student;
  • $14,010 for an independent student who has no dependents and is single, separated, or married to a spouse who’s enrolled in college; and
  • $22,460 for an independent student who has no dependents and is married to a spouse not enrolled in college.

This bill makes it easier for low-income students to apply—and qualify—for federal student aid. It would reduce the number of questions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), placing applicants into one of three pathways based on their finances.

CLASP strongly supports removing the income verification requirement for applicants who have received benefits from a means-tested federal program over the prior two years.  This includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Under this bill, benefit recipients can skip all financial questions, immediately qualifying for an automatic zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and a maximum Pell grant. The bill also increases the automatic zero EFC income threshold to $34,000 and extends eligibility to independent students who do not have dependents.

The bill allows students to use income data from the previous year’s tax returns to apply for financial aid through a streamlined data match between the U.S. Department of Education and Internal Revenue Service. Together, these improvements simplify the financial aid application process and expand access for low-income students.

The bill makes the financial aid application more accessible to English learner students and their parents. The bill requires the secretary of education to provide the FAFSA in both paper and electronic formats in at least 11 foreign languages (based on the languages spoken most often by English learner students and their parents).

The bill would enable Dreamers to afford college. The bill provides federal financial aid eligibility to Dreamers, undocumented students who came to the United States as children.

The bill reinstates Pell grant eligibility for students with drug-related offenses and removes questions about prior drug offenses.

Along with this bill, Congress will soon be considering the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). CLASP urges members to pass HEA reforms that help low-income students access and afford college, increase support for working students, and streamline the financial aid process. Low-income students who receive financial aid and income supports are more likely to complete college and lead healthy, prosperous lives.