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Identifying and understanding FAFSA

The Department of Education is considering re-expanding FAFSA audits in the 2022-23 application cycle. In 2020 many things changed, including the FAFSA process due to the hard times people were facing. During the pandemic, many people lost their jobs and lost the ability to pay for college and file for taxes, and a large part of the FAFSA process is the verification process. The Department of Education relaxed the verification process by reviewing 18% of the FAFSA applications rather than 30%.
Richard Cordary, chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education, said, “This has been an exceptionally tough year. We need to ensure students have the most straightforward path to acquiring the financial aid they need to enroll in college.”

The Department of Education has yet to make the decision to renew the limited verification process, but if they choose not to it could have negative effects on low-income students trying to get the necessary financial aid.

TJC Financial Aid officer Elizabeth Sloan said, “Please do your financial aid early and ask for help because if this happens to you we are here to help and talk you through the process.”

The National College Attainment Network said “FAFSA verification is an audit-like process intended to reduce improper financial aid payments and fraud by the federal government.”

The purpose of the verification process is to maintain the integrity of the Pell Grant program. TJC accepts Pell Grant funds as a way to pay for tuition or a portion of tuition for qualifying students. The verification process attempts to ensure no one’s education is over or underfunded as well as identify fraud and possible identity theft, according to the Department of Education.

The relief on the verification process made it easier for those who had lost their jobs and had major decreases in income. A part of the FAFSA is submitting one’s tax information whether it be importing one’s data directly from the IRS or submitting it manually. But those exempt from taxes have to submit their information manually into the FAFSA application. The Washington Post said, “That prevents them from easily importing verified income data from the IRS onto their FAFSA form and requires more legwork to complete the audit.”

According to the NCAN, 56% of those who are audited receive a Pell Grant compared to the 81% of those who aren’t audited who receive it. The verification process also causes a delay for first-time applicants and transferring students since they have to send the required documents that verify the information on their FAFSA application to each of the colleges they applied for. The NCAN said “While some level of review is necessary, the level of burden unequally placed on low-income students has not been publicly demonstrated to be necessary.”

However, the relaxation of the verification process from the 2020-21 FAFSA might be waived for the 2022-23 FAFSA applications. According to Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, waving the limited auditing process could have harmful effects on those still affected by the pandemic. The NCAN said, “The FAFSA used for the 2022-23 cycle is based on 2020 taxes. This means the FAFSA that opens in October will request financial information from the year the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating economic consequences began. Students will be asked to complete verification for a tax year where many families had significant changes in income.”

This change to the FAFSA process not only affects students but advisers as well since they have to talk with students about what happens if they are audited and how to prevent this issue. Kim Crook, executive director of the NCAN, told The Washington Post, “Extending the current relief would help our advisers and school counselors spend more time on student support and postsecondary planning and less time on paperwork.”

This could cause issues for low-income TJC students and parents who lost their jobs or received a decrease in income because the student and advisor would have to sift through the required documentations to prove the information on the application is accurate rather than the advisers assisting the student get on the right track to their degree.

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