Education Dept. Announces Moves to Ease Burden of Fafsa Tool’s Absence

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Monday said the department would relieve some of the burden on students and families affected by the suspension of the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool, which makes it easier to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the Fafsa.

The changes, announced in a “Dear Colleague” letter, will affect the verification requirements for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 Fafsa cycles. Instead of using the tool or requiring a tax transcript, “institutions may now consider a signed paper copy of the 2015 IRS tax return” as acceptable documentation, the new guidance says. Institutions will no longer be required to collect documentation obtained from the IRS or other tax authorities to verify that an applicant, an applicant’s spouse, or an applicant’s parents did not file a 2015 tax return, the letter continues, but they are expected to provide the verification that was previously required.

Several students, advocates, and lawmakers have urged the department to help student-loan borrowers and their families as much as possible since it was announced that the tool would be offline until the fall. Members of the U.S. House and Senate education committees received a briefing on the tool’s outage from the department in late March, and expect an update briefing within the next few days.

“When I learned the IRS DRT would need to be offline for an extended period of time to add additional security and privacy measures, I directed Federal Student Aid to help students and families successfully complete their applications without use of the IRS DRT,” Ms. DeVos said in a news release. “We will continue to look for additional ways to ease the burdens created by the IRS DRT outage until the tool can be restored with added security measures in place later this year.”

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