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Heck Statement: Markup of H.R. 5528, "Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act"

Early last year, I held a roundtable on higher education in my district to help better understand the issues facing students, teachers, and higher ed administrators in Nevada. Nearly everyone in attendance raised the issue of the overly complicated student aid application process, and specifically, problems with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA.

Like many aspects of the student aid system, the application for aid can be confusing and too complex for many students and families to complete. The FAFSA includes 108 questions requesting information on everything from the net worth of investments to complicated tax information. Many of these questions rely on data that students do not yet have or are so complicated they deter applicants from even completing the form.

As the chairman noted earlier, it’s critically important that students have the information they need to make timely, informed decisions about higher education. That includes information on what aid might be available to help them pursue a college degree and the responsibilities that come with accepting assistance. If the current process deters them from even completing the application for aid, how can students possibly get the help they need? That is why, based on the recommendation of higher ed leaders in Nevada, I began working with some of my colleagues on the committee to reform the FAFSA and improve the student aid application process.

The Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act—which I am proud to sponsor with Dr. Roe and Representatives Polis and Pocan—is the fruit of that labor and does exactly what the title suggests. It will streamline and improve the application process through a number of commonsense measures, all of which will help students and parents access the financial aid information they need in a timely manner to better understand their higher education payment options.

First, it will allow students to use income data from two years prior to the date of application. Traditionally, the FAFSA has relied on income tax data from the previous year, but that data is not readily available when students should begin filling out their applications. While the Department of Education currently has the authority to allow students to use “prior-prior year” data, the department only recently began taking advantage of this authority.

This bill will ensure students are able to use prior-prior year data in the future. This will allow them to complete the FAFSA earlier and receive information about their aid options sooner. It will also provide aid administrators more time to verify the income of applicants, both strengthening the integrity of the federal student aid system and enabling administrators to provide students with accurate aid information as soon as possible.

Additionally, the legislation will require the Department of Education to allow more applicants to easily import their available income data through the IRS, helping them automatically populate answers to many FAFSA questions with information from their tax returns, making it easier on students and parents to accurately complete the form. The bill will also require the FAFSA be available on a mobile app and require the online and paper versions to be consumer-tested. Both of these measures will make the application process easier and more user-friendly.

By improving the application for student aid, we can help more students make smart decisions about college and realize that a college degree is within reach.

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