WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers are proposing a bill to simplify the process of applying for federal aid for students who have no contact with their parents.
Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, and John Sarbanes, D-Towson, introduced the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2019 in the House, while Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
“We believe this is an important piece in making college more affordable for more students,” Van Hollen told Capital News Service in an interview. “This is a small but important measure to help students who, for all practical purposes, do not have parents who can help them participate in paying for college.”
The bill would apply to students who do not have contact with their parents because they escaped abusive homes, were abandoned or have incarcerated parents.
“Students that have faced difficult and abusive life circumstances that leave them unable to contact their parents should have the same chance as their peers to apply for federal student aid and make informed financial decisions,” Cardin said in a statement..
The current FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) does not allow for students to apply under independent status.
Students with special circumstances must contact each college or university to which they applied and request a ”dependency override” before their aid package is calculated. This process can be arduous and dissuade students from completing their applications, Van Hollen said.
The bill includes a key provision that would allow students to apply under a “provisionally independent” category. They would instantly receive a conditional calculation of their financial aid award and complete the dependency override only with the school at which they are enrolling.
“This bill will help prevent our financial aid process from continuing to be an unintended barrier to higher education,” Cummings said in a statement.
Van Hollen said simplifying the FAFSA application process became important to Maryland lawmakers because of concerns voiced by their constituents.
“We’ve been hearing about the need to do this…from students across the state,” he said.
Cummings, Cardin and Van Hollen first introduced the bill last year as the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2018, but it did not pass the Republican-controlled House. Democrats took control of the House in January.
This time, Van Hollen said he expects the bill to garner bipartisan support.
The FAFSA bill is expected to be part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which Van Hollen says the House will take up this year.
“The most likely route to success would be to include this provision as part of that larger bill,” Van Hollen said.
Several educational organizations have announced support of the bill, including the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the American Council on Education.