09.17.20

As Students Struggle to Afford College Amid COVID Crisis, Murray Urges Action to Make Financial Aid Process Easier

At HELP hearing, Murray pushes Congress to make the financial aid process easier for students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and students whose families have low-incomes

 

Murray: “The FAFSA must be a tool that expands access to higher education not a barrier that prevents qualified students from getting the financial aid they need to go to college.”

 

***Watch Senator Murray’s Opening Remarks HERE***

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Committee, stressed the need for the FAFSA to help expand access to college for underrepresented students—especially considering the economic impact of the pandemic. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray urged Congress to take steps that would help make it easier for students to navigate the financial aid process and ensure more students and families can easily know the amount of help they will receive.

 

In addition to simplifying the FAFSA, Senator Murray also stressed steps Congress should take to help students access other federal and state support, including programs to help them afford food, housing, and child care.

 

“The ongoing pandemic is having a profound economic impact on families across the country and we are already seeing that students are facing unprecedented struggles when it comes to paying for college,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks.

    

Senator Murray also called once again to start negotiations on a fourth COVID relief package, stressing that colleges and their students are facing unprecedented turmoil.

 

“While simplifying FAFSA is important… the COVID crisis is top of mind for students, families and educators,” said Senator Murray.  “So the Senate also needs to get to work negotiating a COVID relief bill to ensure colleges can deliver a quality education for their students, implement public health protocols, and provide emergency financial aid to students struggling to afford the food, housing, child care, and technology they need to keep learning during this crisis.”

 

Watch Senator Murray’s opening remarks HERE.

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks below, as prepared for delivery.

    

“Thank you so much to our witnesses for being here today—and thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

“If I’m not mistaken, this will be your last scheduled education hearing as HELP Chairman—and today I want to thank you for all of your contributions to higher ed.

 

“As I said on Tuesday, as former governor, president of the University of Tennessee, and Secretary of Education, this Committee and our country has benefitted from your expertise and experience. 

 

“Throughout our time together on HELP we’ve been able to pass the FUTURE ACT to permanently fund our nation’s HBCUs, update our nation’s career and technical education programs, and work together with Senator Blunt to restore the year-round Pell Grant.

 

“And today, we will discuss an issue where you already have such an impressive legacy—FAFSA simplification.

 

“I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken to improve the FAFSA for students across the country. From our work in 2015 with the Obama Administration to allow students to fill out the FAFSA earlier and with more accurate financial information, to our work last year on the FUTURE Act, which will streamline the process to help students securely use the tax information already on file with the federal government—this is an issue where we’ve repeatedly been able to find common ground and get things done. 

 

“Mr. Chairman, your leadership on this issue has already made the FAFSA that much easier to navigate. But of course, we both agree that there is more work to be done.

 

“The ongoing pandemic is having a profound economic impact on families across the country and we are already seeing that students are facing unprecedented struggles when it comes to paying for college.

 

“The FAFSA must be a tool that expands access to higher education not a barrier that prevents qualified students from getting the financial aid they need to go to college.

 

“And that means we need to build on the valuable work that’s been done to make FAFSA easier to navigate by ensuring that students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and students whose families have low-incomes can successfully get access to the Pell grants available to them.

 

“Because right now, it’s students that need our help the most who are facing the biggest burdens in getting financial aid.

 

“These students often don’t have the resources to navigate the college financial aid process and they struggle without access to college counselors or other support—and many times, without dependable internet or access to a computer.

 

“So instead of forcing them to jump through unnecessary hoops, we need do everything we can to make their lives easier, like making the verification process—where students have to confirm information on the FAFSA for their schools—less of a burden, especially for families with low-incomes, determining Pell Grants based on the federal poverty level—so more students and families can easily know the amount of help they will receive, and fully implementing the FUTURE Act as soon as possible.

 

“And we can’t stop there. We also need to get serious about connecting these students to more than just Pell grants.

 

“And we must work to ensure that students don’t miss out on state and federal support programs they may be eligible for that could help them afford food, housing, and child care.

 

“The FAFSA is just the beginning of the financial aid process that we need to make easier for students and families. So I’m glad to keep working with you, Mr. Chairman, to get this right.

 

“But while simplifying FAFSA is important—I don’t have to tell anyone here that the COVID crisis is top of mind for students, families and educators.

 

“We have just kicked off an unprecedented school year—there have already been over 88,000 cases of coronavirus on college campuses—and 60 deaths. And these outbreaks have led many colleges to abruptly switch to remote classes and force students to leave campus with little warning.

 

“I’m hearing truly heartbreaking stories from college students back in Washington state about the turmoil they are experiencing.

 

“So the Senate also needs to get to work negotiating a COVID relief bill to ensure colleges can deliver a quality education for their students, implement public health protocols, and provide emergency financial aid to students struggling to afford the food, housing, child care, and technology they need to keep learning during this crisis.

 

“I’ll keep pushing to finally start bipartisan negotiations on this relief package, but for now—thanks again to our witnesses for being here.

 

“And thanks again to Chairman Alexander. I know we don’t always agree. But what I do know is that even when we disagree, we’ve always been able to listen to each other and quite often, find things we can agree on that help the people we’re here to serve.

 

“That’s what we have been able to do with FAFSA simplification in the past and I hope even in your last few weeks, we can build on that work to make much-needed progress on the many critical challenges in front of us.

 

“Thank you.”

 

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