Alexander: President Trump, Congress Give Christmas Present to Historically Black Colleges and 20 Million Students Who Fill Out FAFSA Each Year

Posted on December 19, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 19, 2019 – U.S. Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said that President Trump and Congress have delivered a Christmas present for millions of students and families after President Trump signed bipartisan legislation into law that included an amendment by Alexander and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form that 20 million families, including 8 million minority students, fill out every year to qualify for federal student aid.

The legislation also permanently reauthorizes and provides $255 million in annual mandatory funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions and eliminates the bureaucratic verification nightmare for most students. Under the law, the IRS will securely send tax information to the Department of Education, eliminating the possibility of families making mistakes when completing the FAFSA.

“This legislation is a Christmas present for college students and their families,” Alexander said. “First, this legislation provides permanent funding, fully paid for, for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions attended by over 2 million minority students. Second, after five years of bipartisan effort, this simplification of the FAFSA removes the most important roadblock for the 400,000 Tennessee families who apply for federal grants and loans to attend college.”

Alexander continued: “This bipartisan provision stops families from having to give their same tax information to the federal government twice – first to the IRS, then again to the U.S. Department of Education. Students give permission to the IRS and the Department of Education to share tax return data, which eliminates up to 22 questions on the FAFSA with one click. It should eliminate most of the so-called ‘verification’ process, which is a bureaucratic nightmare that 5.5 million students go through annually to make sure the information they gave to the Department of Education is exactly the same as they gave to the IRS. Every president since Clinton has tried to take this step. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin deserve a lot of credit for finally reaching a result that will make it easier for families to apply for aid.  

“Last week, the president of Lane College – one of six HBCUs in Tennessee – told me that he has three staff members who spend a significant amount of time helping the 40 percent of Lane College students who are currently selected for verification each year. This legislation would greatly reduce that burden on his students and their families and allow the staff to spend their time counseling students about academics or jobs, instead of helping them fill out a form.”

The U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives passed the FUTURE Act last Tuesday. The final legislation includes a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Alexander, Senate education committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.),  and reflects an agreement Alexander and Murray, working with Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Education Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) reached.      

Background on the Legislation:

  • Permanently reauthorizes and provides $255 million in annual mandatory funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions
  • Is fully paid for by including the FAFSA Act which passed the Senate unanimously last year:
    • Allows providing tax information only once—Students do not have to give their tax information to the federal government twice.
    • Eliminates up to 22 questions—Students give permission to the Department of Education to request tax return data already given to the Internal Revenue Service, which reduces the 108 questions on the FAFSA by up to 22 questions.
    • Eliminates verification nightmare—For most students, eliminates so-called “verification” which is a bureaucratic nightmare that 5.5 million students go through annually to make sure the information they gave to the U.S. Department of Education is exactly the same as they gave to the IRS.
    • Eliminates $6 billion in mistakes—According to the U.S. Department of Education, helps taxpayers by eliminating up to $6 billion each year in mistakes (both overpayments and underpayments) in Pell grants and student loans.
    • Enables 7 million applicants who are currently unable to access their IRS data for their FAFSA to verify that they do not file taxes without requesting separate documentation from the IRS
    • Streamlines income-driven repayment by eliminating burdensome annual paperwork for 7.7 million federal student loan borrowers on income-driven plans
    • According to the Congressional Budget Office, the FAFSA Act saves taxpayers $2.8 billion over ten years which will be used to pay for the permanent funding for HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions.

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