With IRS Data Tool Down, Lawmakers Ask Education Dept. to Help Students

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate has asked the U.S. Department of Education to help families who may be affected by the outage of a popular online tool that had made it easier to apply for federal student aid.

The Internal Revenue Service and the Education Department announced this month that they had suspended the data-retrieval tool, a device that automatically pulls federal tax information into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the Fafsa. The two agencies said they had acted over security concerns.

In a letter, 41 members of both chambers’ education committees laid out steps they said would help students in filling out the Fafsa in the absence of the retrieval tool. “Protecting taxpayer and student privacy is vitally important, and we’re concerned about any potential attempts to misuse sensitive information,” the lawmakers said. “However, we also are concerned about the students and families who will not be able to use the tool for weeks.”

Among other steps, the lawmakers asked the department to notify students, families, and borrowers that the tool is down, and to provide a reason for the outage. They also asked the department to consider allowing applicants to use signed tax returns for verification purposes while the tool is down. And they asked the department to help states devise work-arounds, such as pushing back their deadlines for financial-aid applications.

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