Harder Asks Ed Dept to Update Student Loan System in Light of Coronavirus

April 29, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – In response to the economic chaos caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) has asked the Department of Education to take deliberate steps to ensure students can update their family’s financial information in the student loan application process. The Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) currently uses a family’s tax filings from previous years to estimate family contributions to a student’s college tuition. Many families have already experienced significant changes to their income since the start of the pandemic, and many more will experience furloughs, layoffs, or changes in pay as a result. Rep. Harder is calling on the Department of Education to take deliberate steps to ensure student aid administrators – as well as students – understand the flexibility built into the student loan system.

“We’re at the highest unemployment since the Depression – obviously a lot of families’ budgets will look different now than they did last year,” said Rep. Harder. “We need the federal government to account for that and make sure our families can afford to keep our kids in school.”

"Educating students on the ever-changing rules, regulations, and amendments - due to Covid-19 -  has been an ongoing effort by our College. We stand in advocacy for our students, and equip them with the knowledge and skills to advocate for themselves,” said Aurelia Gonzalez, Interim Director of Student Financial Aid Services at Modesto Junior College. By making the Professional Judgement disclaimer more widely known, students will be able to advocate for themselves, and ensure that they will get their financial aid needs met to continue on with their educational journey."  

The text of the letter is below and an original version is available here.

 

Secretary DeVos,

COVID-19 has devastated the finances of many Americans both in my district and across the country, including students currently attending or planning to enroll in college. However, this recent financial hardship is not reflected in previously submitted Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) and subsequent financial aid packages. I write today to request that the Department of Education consider the specific FAFSA-related assistance recommendations for students and families outlined below.

As you know, the FAFSA helps students and their families determine their eligibility for federal financial aid, which includes access to federal grants, loans, and work-study programs to pay for costs associated with enrollment in an institution of higher education. This process establishes a student’s expected family contribution (EFC), which is based on income, assets, and other factors. However, many of these students are facing financial hardship due to the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in FAFSA applications that are outdated and do not reflect their current financial situations.

Fortunately, the Higher Education Act allows financial aid administrators to make necessary adjustments to a student’s FAFSA application in order to accurately calculate a student’s EFC. This process is called Professional Judgment and is available to students who have already submitted their FAFSA application. However, I am concerned that students both in my district and across the country may not know about this process and consequently fail to pursue it. This includes first-generation college students and recent high school graduates who have not yet matriculated and received information on campus services. I fear that without necessary guidance from the Department of Education regarding Professional Judgement, some students may end up dropping out or postponing their pursuit of a college education due to the financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these concerns, we urge the Department to do the following:

  1. Include information for students on its COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page explaining the Professional Judgement process and to conduct additional outreach to students, so that they have the information they need.
  2. Clarify whether the GEN-09-04[3] and GEN-09-05[4] guidance on Professional Judgment issued by the Department is still in effect and communicate this clarification to institutions of higher education.
  3. Provide financial aid administrators at colleges and universities additional training on the Professional Judgement process through webinars and tutorials.

It is critical that we take the necessary steps to ensure that COVID-19 does not prevent students from accessing affordable higher educational opportunities. That is why I am urging the Department of Education, under your guidance, to carefully consider the recommendations outlined above. Thank you for your department’s efforts during this crisis, and I look forward to working together to mitigate the effects of the Coronavirus on student learning and achievement.