Education Department Extends FAFSA Financial Verification Waiver

The decision means fewer college students from low-income households will be asked to prove that the information on their financial aid application is accurate.
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  • The waiver applies to financial aid for the 2022-23 award year.
  • Advocates say the waiver allows low-income students to more easily access federal aid.
  • The decision to extend the waiver also will ease the burdens placed on college financial aid administrators.

Obtaining federal financial aid may be less arduous for low-income college students this upcoming school year.

The Department of Education (ED) last week announced that it will not enforce financial verification for students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2022-23 academic year. Instead, the department will focus on cutting down on identity fraud rather than auditing students' financial information.

"The [Department] recognizes the need to continue to provide relief to millions of students and colleges facing challenges and barriers resulting from the ongoing national emergency," Annmarie Weisman, an Education Department senior director, wrote in a letter to financial aid administrators.

Financial verification is an audit-like process that requires students to submit additional financial and tax information to qualify for aid. While students are supposed to be selected at random for financial verification, a Washington Post analysis of federal data found that ED disproportionately selected students from majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods to provide additional information.

Advocacy groups, including the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), have also claimed that the verification process may prevent many low-income students from accessing aid.

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That's because these students are less likely to have experience navigating a bureaucratic process like financial verification, and they are also less likely to have the support system to aid them. Additionally, it's more difficult to prove a lack of income. Independents also have difficulty providing any financial information if they don't have a job and don't have a parent or guardian's financial information to submit.

Kim Cook, CEO of the National College Attainment Network, applauded the department's announcement.

"As the [COVID-19] pandemic continues to create challenges for prospective and current college students, we must do all we can to reduce barriers to college access," Cook said in a statement.

ED estimates this waiver will help approximately 100,000 students who otherwise would not have had access to aid.

This is the second consecutive year that ED has implemented this waiver. Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid, said in a 2021 statement that the temporary change was put in place to help students through the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 3 million Pell Grant-eligible students are typically selected for verification each year. This change is expected to allow nearly all of these students to receive aid more easily. Nearly 7 million low- and middle-income students benefit from Pell Grants each year.

Colleges and universities may still choose to require financial verification for their internal aid programs. However, the Federal Student Aid office encourages institutions to amend their policies so they don't limit relief for students in need.

With ongoing staff shortages at financial aid offices across the country, the waiver may help ease the burden for administrators. A recent survey of administrators from NASFAA found that over half (56%) of institutions surveyed said they are "concerned about their ability to adequately serve students with current staffing levels."