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Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Bill to Cut 108-Question Student Aid Form to 2 Questions

Bill introduced by Alexander, Bennet, Burr, Booker, Isakson, King will simplify financial aid application for 20 million Americans who fill it out each year

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2015 – Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) with Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and Angus King (I- Maine) today introduced the FAST Act, a bill to simplify the process of applying for and receiving federal financial aid to attend college, allow year-round use of Pell Grants, discourage over-borrowing and simplify repayments.

The bill would reduce to a single postcard—called the “Student Aid Short Form”—the questions 20 million Americans must answer to apply for federal financial aid each year and inform high school students in their junior year of the amount they’ll receive in federal aid to help pay for college. It would also address the problem of some students borrowing too much money, and simplify the options students have to repay their federal loans.  The act also streamlines federal grant and loan programs to better serve more students more effectively. 

Alexander said: “Every year, millions of students are discouraged from applying for financial aid by an unnecessarily complicated, 108-question form. This bill would cut those questions down to two, and help families get aid information sooner, while protecting taxpayers from lending more money to students than they’re able to repay.”

Bennet said: “We can increase access to college and higher education for students simply by making this government form easier to use. This long overdue change will encourage more students to apply for college. Students and their families will also learn what aid they’re eligible to receive earlier in the process. Providing parents and students with as much information as possible on how they can afford the rising costs of higher education will allow them to make better long term decisions about their futures.”

Burr said: “The FAST Act dramatically simplifies the process for answering the two biggest questions students face when going to school: which college can I afford and how much assistance can I expect from the federal government?  I am happy to lend my support to this legislation, which will make the process for filling out the FAFSA form a snap.” 

Booker said: “It is clear that simplifying the financial aid process would increase college access and enable students to get the aid they need and deserve. The Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act is a good first step as the Senate considers legislation to increase access to higher education. I look forward to receiving feedback from students, families, and stakeholders as we work to reduce the burden of the financial aid process and boost enrollment."

Isakson said: “Simplifying the overly complicated federal aid application and giving students and parents the opportunity to receive aid information earlier in their admission process will help provide easier access to the important tools necessary to choose a postsecondary institution that is right for them. Additionally, by protecting students from over-borrowing and helping them to better understand their repayment options, students will be better equipped to responsibly repay their loans.”

King said: “Applying for federal student aid shouldn’t require a financial advisor. When it comes to our students getting the help they need to go to college, simplicity should rule the day. That’s why this bill dramatically streamlines the application paperwork and process, so that students can better access the aid they need to take that next step in their education. Bipartisanship means finding common sense solutions to everyday problems, and I am proud to join this group of senators in this effort and look forward to working together to move this proposal forward.”

The senators said that they want to be certain that the short form sends taxpayer dollars solely to those eligible, and so would reduce the form to as close to two questions as possible without creating an opportunity for fraud or abuse. 

The Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act, or FAST Act, would transform the federal financial aid process by accomplishing the following:

1. Eliminating the Free Application for Financial Student Aid, or FAFSA: The bill would reduce the 10-page form to a postcard that would ask just two questions: What is your family size? And, what was your household income two years ago?

2. Telling families early in the process of what the federal government will provide them in a grant and loan. The bill would create a look-up table to allow students in their junior year of high school to see how much in federal aid they are eligible for as they are start to look at colleges.

3. Streamlining the federal grant and loan programs. The bill wouldcombine two federal grant programs into one Pell grant program and reduce the six different federal loan programs into three: one undergraduate loan program, one graduate loan program, andone parent loan program, resulting in more access for more students.  

4. Enabling students to use Pell grants in a manner that works for them. The bill would restore year-round Pell grant availability and provide flexibility so students can study at their own pace. Both provisions would enable them to complete college sooner.

5.  Discouraging over-borrowing. The bill would limit the amount a student is able to borrow based on enrollment. For example, a part-time student would be able to take out a part time loan only.

6. Simplifying repayment options. The bill would streamline complicated repayment programs and create two simple plans, an income based plan and a 10-year repayment plan.

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