[Pages H4611-H4613]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




            SIMPLIFYING THE APPLICATION FOR STUDENT AID ACT

  Mr. HECK of Nevada. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass 
the bill (H.R. 5528) to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to 
simplify the FAFSA, and for other purposes, as amended.
  The Clerk read the title of the bill.
  The text of the bill is as follows:

                               H.R. 5528

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,

     SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

       This Act may be cited as the ``Simplifying the Application 
     for Student Aid Act''.

     SEC. 2. USING DATA FROM SECOND PRECEDING YEAR.

       Section 480(a)(1)(B) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 
     (20 U.S.C. 1087vv(a)(1)(B)) is amended by striking ``may'' in 
     both places it appears and inserting ``shall''.

     SEC. 3. CALCULATION OF ANNUAL ADJUSTMENT PERCENTAGE FOR 
                   FEDERAL PELL GRANTS.

       Section 401(b)(7)(C)(iv)(I) of the Higher Education Act of 
     1965 (20 U.S.C. 1070a(b)(7)(C)(iv)(I)) is amended by striking 
     ``calendar year'' and inserting ``fiscal year''.

     SEC. 4. FAFSA SIMPLIFICATION.

       (a) FAFSA Simplification.--Section 483 of the Higher 
     Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1090) is amended--
       (1) in subsection (a)(3), by adding at the end the 
     following:
       ``(I) Format.--Not later than 180 days after the date of 
     the enactment of the Simplifying the Application for Student 
     Aid Act, the Secretary shall make the electronic version of 
     the forms under this paragraph available through a technology 
     tool that can be used on mobile devices. Such technology tool 
     shall, at minimum, enable applicants to--
       ``(i) save data; and
       ``(ii) submit their FAFSA to the Secretary through such 
     tool.
       ``(J) Consumer testing.--In developing and maintaining the 
     electronic version of the forms under this paragraph and the 
     technology tool for mobile devices under subparagraph (I), 
     the Secretary shall conduct consumer testing with appropriate 
     persons to ensure the forms and technology tool are designed 
     to be easily usable and understandable by students and 
     families. Such consumer testing shall include--
       ``(i) current and prospective college students, family 
     members of such students, and other individuals with 
     expertise in student financial assistance application 
     processes;
       ``(ii) dependent students and independent students meeting 
     the requirements under subsection (b) or (c) of section 479; 
     and
       ``(iii) dependent students and independent students who do 
     not meet the requirements under subsection (b) or (c) of 
     section 479.''; and
       (2) by amending subsection (f) to read as follows:
       ``(f) Use of Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool 
     to Populate FAFSA.--
       ``(1) Simplification efforts.--The Secretary shall--
       ``(A) make every effort to allow applicants to utilize the 
     current data retrieval tool to transfer data available from 
     the Internal Revenue Service to reduce the amount of original 
     data entry by applicants and strengthen the reliability of 
     data used to calculate expected family contributions, 
     including through the use of technology to--
       ``(i) allow an applicant to automatically populate the 
     electronic version of the forms under this paragraph with 
     data available from the Internal Revenue Service; and
       ``(ii) direct an applicant to appropriate questions on such 
     forms based on the applicant's answers to previous questions; 
     and
       ``(B) allow single taxpayers, married taxpayers filing 
     jointly, and married taxpayers filing separately to utilize 
     the current data retrieval tool to its full capacity.
       ``(2) Use of tax return in application process.--The 
     Secretary shall continue to examine whether data provided by 
     the Internal Revenue Service can be used to generate an 
     expected family contribution without additional action on the 
     part of the student and taxpayer.
       ``(3) Reports on fafsa simplification efforts.--Not less 
     than once every other year, the Secretary shall report to the 
     authorizing committees on the progress of the simplification 
     efforts under this subsection.
       ``(4) Reports on fafsa access.--Not less than once every 10 
     years, the Secretary shall report to the authorizing 
     committees on the needs of limited English proficient 
     students using the FAFSA.''.
       (b) Funding.--
       (1) Use of existing funds.--Of the amount authorized to be 
     appropriated to the Department of Education to maintain the 
     Free Application for Federal Student Aid, $3,000,000 shall be 
     available to carry out this Act and the amendments made by 
     this Act.
       (2) No additional funds authorized.--No funds are 
     authorized by this Act to be appropriated to carry out this 
     Act or the amendments made by this Act.

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from 
Nevada (Mr. Heck) and the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Pocan) each 
will control 20 minutes.
  The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Nevada.


                             General Leave

  Mr. HECK of Nevada. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all 
Members have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and 
to include any extraneous material on H.R. 5528.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Nevada?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. HECK of Nevada. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  I rise today in strong support of H.R. 5528, the Simplifying the 
Application for Student Aid Act.
  Early last year, I held a roundtable on higher education in my 
district to help better understand the issues facing students, 
teachers, and higher ed administrators in Nevada. Nearly everyone in 
attendance raised the issue of the overly complicated student aid 
process and, specifically, problems with the Free Application for 
Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA.
  Like many aspects of the student aid system, the application for aid 
can be

[[Page H4612]]

confusing and too complex for many students and families to complete. 
The FAFSA includes 108 questions, requesting information on everything 
from the net worth of investments to complicated tax information. Many 
of these questions rely on data that students do not yet have or are so 
complicated they deter applicants from even completing the form.
  It is critically important that students have the information they 
need to make timely, informed decisions about higher education; that 
includes information on what aid might be available to help them pursue 
a college degree and the responsibilities that come with accepting 
assistance.
  If the current process deters them from even completing the 
application for aid, how can students possibly get the help they need? 
That is why, based on the recommendation of higher ed leaders in 
Nevada, I began working with some of my colleagues on the committee to 
reform the FAFSA and improve the student aid application process.
  The Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act, which I am proud 
to sponsor with Representatives Roe of Tennessee, Polis, and Pocan, is 
the fruit of that labor and does exactly what the title suggests. It 
will streamline and improve the application process through a number of 
commonsense measures, all of which will help students and parents 
access the financial aid information they need in a timely manner to 
better understand their higher education payment options.
  First, it will allow students to use income tax data from 2 years 
prior to the date of application. Traditionally, the FAFSA has relied 
on income tax data from the previous year, but that data is not readily 
available when students should begin filling out their applications. 
While the Department of Education currently has the authority to allow 
students to use prior-prior year data, the Department only recently 
began taking advantage of this authority, and only after the 
introduction of the original legislation on this issue.
  This bill will ensure students are able to use prior-prior year data 
in the future, allowing them to complete the FAFSA earlier and receive 
information about their aid options sooner. It will also provide aid 
administrators more time to verify the income of applicants, both 
strengthening the integrity of the Federal Student Aid system and 
enabling administrators to provide students with accurate aid 
information as soon as possible.
  Additionally, the legislation will require the Department of 
Education to allow more applicants to easily import their available 
income data through the IRS, helping them automatically populate 
answers to many FAFSA questions with information from their tax 
returns, making it easier on students and parents to accurately 
complete the form. The bill will also require that FAFSA be available 
on a mobile app and require the online and paper versions to be 
consumer tested. Both of these measures will make the application 
process easier and more user friendly and will work to ensure that data 
is protected.
  By improving the application for student aid, we can help more 
students make smart decisions about college and realize that a college 
degree is within reach.
  I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation.
  I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. POCAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
  I rise today in support of H.R. 5528, the Simplifying the Application 
for Student Aid Act.
  Last year, Representative Doggett of Texas and I led a letter to 
then-Secretary Duncan regarding the importance of prior-prior year 
FAFSA.
  Allowing students to use prior years' tax data means a student can 
apply for financial aid at the same time they apply for college. This 
means that students will get information about financial aid, which 
will help them make their college choice much earlier. This is 
especially helpful for first-generation and at-risk college students 
who need an accurate picture of a college's price tag well in advance 
in order to make their decision.
  In September, I was happy to see President Obama take executive 
action to allow for the use of prior-prior year tax data for students. 
The bipartisan bill before us would make this executive action 
permanent and is an important step toward making college more 
affordable, ensuring future students are afforded the opportunity to 
use prior year tax data when filling out the FAFSA form.
  Additionally, the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act 
will also direct the Department of Education to develop a mobile app 
for using FAFSA. This will allow millions of Americans who do not have 
broadband access but do have Internet connectivity on their phones to 
have access to an electronic version of FAFSA.
  Finally, this bill will also encourage the Department of Education to 
study how the Department of Education can better reach out to students 
with limited English language proficiency when filling out the FAFSA. 
These are commonsense reforms which need to be made in order to 
streamline the process for students applying to college.
  While there is a lot more we can do to tackle college affordability, 
I am pleased we are moving forward with this important, bipartisan 
legislation today.
  I thank the financial aid office at the University of Wisconsin-
Madison for first raising this issue to us, and I also thank the 
gentleman from Nevada (Mr. Heck) for his leadership on this issue.
  I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. HECK of Nevada. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. POCAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from 
Virginia (Mr. Scott).
  Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 5528, 
the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act, and I encourage my 
fellow Members to support it as well.

  Under this bill, students and parents will be able to apply for 
financial aid when filling out college applications and will no longer 
have to wait until they have filed the current year's tax returns in 
order to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or 
FAFSA, form. Prior to this change, some families could not fill out the 
FAFSA form until they had filled out their taxes in April--or even 
later, with an extension--and, therefore, many students could not 
receive financial aid in a timely manner.
  In a 2013 report from the National Association of Student Financial 
Aid Administrators report on using what is called using prior-prior 
year FAFSA data, they found that the expected family contribution of 
low-income students does not change much over time and concluded that 
the potential benefits of using prior-prior year data outweighed the 
potential cost. So last year, President Obama directed the Department 
of Education to switch to prior-prior year on the FAFSA form through 
executive action. Now, this bill will make that change permanent.
  Another important provision of the bill will require the Secretary to 
periodically report to Congress on the needs of limited English-
proficient students. To make sure that a college education is within 
reach for all students, the Department should make the FAFSA form more 
accessible to students and families with limited English proficiency.
  Mr. Speaker, research has unfortunately shown us that too many 
students fail to attend college simply because of the complexity of the 
FAFSA form. This simplification will make it possible for them to fill 
out the form and to achieve their dream of achieving higher education.
  We know how important higher education is, and I am pleased that we 
could come together in a bipartisan fashion to make these important 
changes.
  I urge my colleagues to support this bill.
  Mr. HECK of Nevada. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. POCAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from 
Colorado (Mr. Polis).
  Mr. POLIS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 5528, 
the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act.
  I have the great privilege of representing Colorado's major research 
universities: Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and the 
University of Colorado flagship campus in Boulder, Colorado. When I 
speak with financial aid offices and students who receive financial aid 
at both institutions, one of the first priorities and issues I hear 
about is how we can allow students to

[[Page H4613]]

complete the FAFSA and hear back earlier.
  The FAFSA was initially created to help open the doors and make 
college within reach for more students; but unfortunately, too often, 
it has grown unwieldy, and students are forced to make decisions about 
where they go and whether they go to college before even knowing how 
much aid they are scheduled to receive.
  Under this legislation, students will be able to complete the FAFSA 
several months earlier than they do now--very important. And the bill 
also links data with the IRS data retrieval tool, so information can 
populate automatically in the FAFSA form. These changes alone will go a 
long way toward making the process for completing the FAFSA simpler and 
easier.
  I am proud to have worked with Representatives Pocan, Roe of 
Tennessee, and Heck of Nevada to have introduced this bill, and I am 
very excited it is coming before the floor for a vote.
  Now, this bill is important. It is a good, bipartisan first step, but 
it is one of many things that Congress needs to do to improve college 
access and the completion rate for students.
  For example, allowing students to take college courses in high school 
could significantly reduce the overall price they pay for college. When 
a student takes dual enrollment courses, they are more likely to attend 
college and less likely to need remedial courses. We have high schools 
in my home State and in my district where students graduate high school 
with an associate's degree at essentially no cost to them, thanks to 
dual enrollment.
  We also need to look at innovative learning models, like competency-
based education, which allows students to progress through their degree 
based on what they know instead of seat time. This model provides a 
more flexible path to a degree. It could be higher quality, less 
expensive, and more challenging than a traditional program.
  Another key part of reducing the cost of college is confronting the 
cost of materials. A student in Colorado spends an average of $1,200 a 
year on textbooks alone. Open source textbooks, which are openly 
licensed and free to use, can eliminate that cost.
  In order to address these ideas, reforms, and more, we need a 
comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. A 
reauthorization will take Democrats and Republicans working together, 
just like we did on this bill, which is an important first step.
  I am hopeful that, in the coming months, members of the Education and 
the Workforce Committee can begin to lay the groundwork for a 
reauthorization of the HEA that truly helps make college more 
affordable and meets the changing needs of a global economy.
  Mr. POCAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
  Mr. HECK of Nevada. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my 
time.
  In closing, I thank, again, Representatives Roe of Tennessee, Polis, 
and Pocan for their leadership in bringing this commonsense bill to the 
floor today. I thank all of our colleagues on the Education and the 
Workforce Committee for their work to strengthen the country's higher 
education system.
  Too many individuals already think the dream of a higher education 
could never become a reality for them. Too many others are discouraged 
by a system that is too confusing, too bureaucratic, and too outdated. 
The Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act and the other 
higher education bills on the floor today will deliver important 
reforms that Americans need. This bill will help students and parents 
better understand their postsecondary options and empower them to make 
timely financial decisions about their education.
  I urge my colleagues to support this education.
  I yield back the balance of my time.
  Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 5528 the 
``Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act'' which aims to 
strengthen, improve, and streamline student aid process.
  Access to quality education is a key factor in securing a successful 
and bright future.
  For many students and families, federal financial aid is the only 
means of making postsecondary education possible.
  In times of economic adversity and uncertainty across the United 
States, the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act ensures 
that students and families are supported in realizing their education 
goals.
  A student's application process starts when he or she submits the 
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  Students who wish to enroll in fall classes are encouraged to begin 
applying for aid in January.
  However, the FAFSA relies on income tax data from the previous year 
that is not readily available at the time students should start filling 
out their applications.
  This flawed process results in significant delays in the submission 
of FAFSA forms, which leaves financial aid administrators little time 
to put together aid packages for incoming students.
  More importantly, students do not learn in a timely manner what their 
financial aid packages will ultimately be, which makes it more 
difficult to plan for the cost of their education.
  The current application runs 10 pages long and includes 108 questions 
on topics such as income, expenses, family size, and assets.
  As part of an effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the 
bipartisan legislation will help students make timely financial 
decisions about their education.
  In addition this bill will allow students to use family income data 
from two years prior to the date of the FAFSA application.
  Establishes a link between the online FAFSA form and income tax data 
stored by the Internal Revenue Service to automatically input income 
data into the FAFSA form, reducing the need to manually input 
information that often prevents low-income students from applying for 
aid.
  And most importantly, strengthens the integrity of federal financial 
aid by providing institutions more time to verify the income of their 
students.
  As the country continues to work through some of the most difficult 
economic conditions in a generation, it is imperative that we increase 
our investment in education.
  If we are truly going to compete against emerging nations like China 
and India, we must continue to invest in our education system.
  I am proud to represent Houston, Texas which is home to several 
prestigious universities and dozens of community and technical 
colleges.
  With such an emphasis on higher education, we have long been working 
to become a leader in producing workers for the 21st century economy.
  This crucial legislation will build on the infrastructure already 
available in Houston and make higher education more affordable and 
accessible for everyone.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the 
gentleman from Nevada (Mr. Heck) that the House suspend the rules and 
pass the bill, H.R. 5528, as amended.
  The question was taken; and (two-thirds being in the affirmative) the 
rules were suspended and the bill, as amended, was passed.
  A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

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