03.12.19

Murray Statement on the Need for More Accessible Student Aid at Higher Education Act Reauthorization Hearing on FAFSA Simplification and Verification

At Senate HELP Committee hearing, Senator Murray submitted a statement for the record outlining the need to increase aid, support, and investment in students in a comprehensive HEA reauthorization

 

Murray also highlighted the importance of easing the burden of verification and targeting FAFSA questions to ensure students are getting the support they need to succeed in higher education

 

Bipartisan work to produce a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is in direct contrast with Trump Administration’s proposed budget, which aims to slash more than $200 billion in federal student aid

 

Murray: “There are many difficult challenges at hand in this reauthorization and I look forward to digging into other issues of concern in my caucus, including campus safety, accountability, and more.”

  

Washington, D.C. – Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, submitted a statement for the record at the Committee’s hearing on Simplifying the FAFSA and Reducing the Burden of Verification as the Senate works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. In her statement, Senator Murray stressed the need to reduce the burden of verification for low-income students and called for accessible aid for students, including through Pell Grants, campus-based aid, state-based financial aid, and federal means-tested benefit programs. Murray noted that while simplifying FAFSA and reducing the burden of verification are important steps—they alone will not fully address the challenges students face accessing and affording higher education, and she urged the Committee to view these issues in a larger context that includes providing more investments in and support for students and addressing the total cost of college, including food, housing, child care, transportation, books, and more.

  

Key excerpts of Senator Murray’s statement:

 

“Simplifying the FAFSA would certainly help make college more affordable and accessible for some students but that alone will not adequately address these challenges. So I hope during our conversation today we can approach this issue as one piece in a larger puzzle that includes providing more aid, support, and investment in our students.”

 

“I believe one of most beneficial things we can do to help students receive their financial aid is to reduce the burden of verification. We’re asking our students to jump through hoops to provide the same financial information over and over again, and this immense burden is resulting in students leaving money on the table. When students can’t complete the overly complicated process of verification—referred to as the ‘verification melt’—they often drop out altogether.”

 

“In last year’s spending bill, I helped establish new methods for colleges to securely share FAFSA data with a student’s consent to connect them with federal benefits programs including Medicaid, SNAP, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—or WIC, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and more.”

 

“I’ve heard from students who are living in their cars, can’t afford the hundreds of dollars they are required to spend on text books, can’t find affordable child care near campus, and many who can’t afford to even eat. And a recent study by the Government Accountability Office confirmed that hunger on college campuses is a widespread and national issue, but nearly two million students who were eligible for help paying for food weren’t getting it.”

 

“If we are serious about connecting students to Pell Grants—we must also be serious about connecting them to other benefits and truly making college affordable through this reauthorization. So I want to thank our witnesses for being here today—and as we have a conversation around improving the FAFSA today—I hope we can do it with the other issues surrounding college affordability in mind.”

 

Full text below of Sen. Murray’s statement:

 

“Thank you Chairman Alexander.

 

“I am pleased this Committee is working towards a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that addresses some of the most important issues students are facing in higher education.

 

“It is also a positive step that this Committee is working to find common ground—in contrast with the approach taken by the current Administration.

 

“Just yesterday—the President proposed to slash more than $200 billion in federal student aid through cuts to campus-based aid, Pell Grant funding, and student debt relief to pay for proposals that have all been soundly rejected by Congress.

 

“Instead of that divisive approach—we are working together to achieve a reauthorization that responds to the realities faced by our students and their families.

 

“And I have made it very clear that in order for a reauthorization to be truly comprehensive—it must address four student-centered priorities.

 

“Making college more affordable and addressing the exploding student debt crisis, holding colleges accountable for student’s success, increasing access and opportunities for historically underrepresented students, and ensuring our students are able to learn in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and assault.

 

“Simplifying the FAFSA would certainly help make college more affordable and accessible for some students but that alone will not adequately address these challenges.

 

“So I hope during our conversation today we can approach this issue as one piece in a larger puzzle that includes providing more aid, support, and investment in our students.

 

“And while I am glad we are having another hearing on the Chairman’s top priority, there are many difficult challenges at hand in this reauthorization and I look forward to digging into other issues of concern in my caucus, including campus safety, accountability, and more.

 

“But today’s topic at hand is potential changes we can make to the FAFSA to connect students with the support they need.

 

“I believe one of most beneficial things we can do to help students receive their financial aid is to reduce the burden of verification.

 

“We’re asking our students to jump through hoops to provide the same financial information over and over again and this immense burden is resulting in students leaving money on the table.

 

“When students can’t complete the overly complicated process of verification—referred to as the ‘verification melt’—they often drop out altogether.

 

“So we can—and should—eliminate unnecessary questions on the FAFSA form and make it seamless to transfer over tax information, but any changes we make must ensure that low-income students not only have access to Pell Grants, but also easy access to campus-based aid, state-based financial aid, and federal benefit programs to help with the costs of food, housing, health care, and more.

 

“This is personal for me—I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without the help of federal financial aid including Pell Grants and Work Study programs.

 

“And I’m not alone in this. Colleges want to ensure low-income students have the support they need, but if we inadvertently push them to increase the burden on students by filling out two or more forms—the FAFSA and school-specific forms—low-income students could potentially struggle even more than they already do to get the help they need.

 

“So we need to ensure the questions are targeted to ensure the students who may need more support—including first generation college students, students who aren’t in contact with their parents, homeless and foster youth, student parents, veterans and servicememembers, and more—are getting the help they need.

 

“And the data collected from the FAFSA should be used not just to connect students with financial benefits—but also to help students throughout their time in college.

 

“Thankfully—we’re already making progress on getting students the help they need.

 

“At the request from Congress—the Obama Administration allowed students to apply for financial aid earlier, with more accurate tax return information, and also streamlined the FAFSA for homeless and foster youth.

 

“In last year’s spending bill, I helped establish new methods for colleges to securely share FAFSA data with a student’s consent to connect them with federal benefits programs including Medicaid, SNAP, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—or WIC, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and more.

 

“In my home state of Washington—we’re working together to get the word out about FAFSA completion and to provide students with additional support to navigate the financial aid process.

 

“And now—students can apply for the FAFSA through an app on their phones and fill it out at their own pace.

 

“So I hope as we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act—we can build on this progress and make it easier for students to access financial aid and the benefits and support they need to succeed in higher education.

 

“However—as we work through this vast and complicated reauthorization, there are steps that can be taken right now to ease the burden on students.

 

“Under the Trump Administration, low-income students are being flagged for verification at a rate much higher than in previous years and the process to transfer over tax return information on the FAFSA is clunky and frequently doesn’t work for many who try to use it.

 

“So Secretary DeVos must take steps to address these flaws and to help low-income students access the benefits and aid they need without jumping through unnecessary hoops.

 

“And finally, I want to touch on a topic I mentioned briefly at the beginning of my statement.

 

“Simplifying the FAFSA and easing the burden of verification are important steps to address our goals of making college more affordable and accessible to students, but it does not do enough to truly address the skyrocketing costs of college.

 

“Right now the maximum Pell Grant is only $6,195—not nearly enough to cover all of the costs students incur while in higher education.

 

“And while the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant or S-E-O-G, Work Study, state financial aid, and other grants and scholarships can help, this patchwork system usually doesn’t come close to meeting the total costs of college, including transportation, textbooks, housing, food, child care, and more.

 

“I’ve heard from students who are living in their cars, can’t afford the hundreds of dollars they are required to spend on text books, can’t find affordable child care near campus, and many who can’t afford to even eat.

 

“And a recent study by the Government Accountability Office confirmed that hunger on college campuses is a widespread and national issue, but nearly two million students who were eligible for help paying for food weren’t getting it.

 

“If we are serious about connecting students to Pell Grants—we must also be serious about connecting them to other benefits and truly making college affordable through this reauthorization. So I want to thank our witnesses for being here today—and as we have a conversation around improving the FAFSA today—I hope we can do it with the other issues surrounding college affordability in mind.

 

“Thank you.”

 

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