U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a new, streamlined Free Application for Federal Student Aid on Monday during a presidential stop in Iowa for the president’s Back-to-School Bus Tour. The new form removes a bulk of the tax questions and would be released in October — three months before the old release date of January. However, students will have to wait until October 2016 to see any changes.
“Today, we’re lending a hand to millions of high school students who want to go to college and who’ve worked hard,” Duncan said, according to NPR. “We’re announcing an easier, earlier FAFSA.”
The Obama administration predicts this will be a boon to students, especially incoming freshmen who apply to college in the fall. Under the old FAFSA, students would often apply to college in the fall — long before any kind of aid information came in January.
Additionally, the old FAFSA required parental tax information from the prior year. The issue here is that many students, at least 4 million according to NPR, apply for aid before their parents file taxes. This made it impossible for students and parents to take advantage of an IRS tool that fills out most of the FAFSA tax information automatically.
The new form allows parents and students to use tax information from the “prior-prior” year and would allow students to accurately fill out the FAFSA only a few months after 2015 tax returns are distributed.
Though the new FAFSA has managed to improve upon the tax portion of the form, other, non-tax-related portions will remain as-is because they would need to be changed by Congress. In its FAFSA fact sheet, the White House noted that “many of the most time-consuming questions on the FAFSA cannot be completed with IRS data because they require information that is not reported on tax returns.”
The fact sheet continues to say that students often lack the ability to answer such questions, many times because it requires information about “assets, untaxed and other unusual forms of income from multiple sources.”
In light of this, President Obama has called on Congress to remove some 30 questions that the White House has called “burdensome and unnecessarily complex.”
In his announcement of the new form, Duncan also noted that he expects hundreds of thousands of new students to sign up for Pell Grants, which, unlike loans, do not require students to pay the government back.
Duncan was quick to assert that the cost for this would be relatively minor, amounting to a less than 1 percent increase of the over $30 billion the government spends on Pell Grants every year.
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