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The Department of Education Temporarily Changes Federal Aid Verification Process

July 15, 2021 by Ansley Puckett
Princeton University. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday that it will make temporary changes to the Federal Aid Verification Process for the 2021-2022 award year.  

According to the Department, more than 3 million potential Pell Grant recipients are selected for verification each year. However, due to the challenges they face requiring documentation, some students cannot complete verification and do not receive the financial aid they need to enroll in college.  

“This has been an exceptionally tough year,” said Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid. “We need to ensure students have the most straightforward path to acquiring the financial aid they need to enroll in college and continue their path to a degree.” 

Verification is an administrative process where the DOE requires a group of federal student aid applicants who are eligible for Pell Grants to submit additional documentation, such as transcripts of tax returns, to verify their income and other information reported on the FAFSA form.  

However, according to the Department, the process can be difficult for students because at least 20% of Pell-eligible applicants are exempt from tax filing because of their low-income levels. This can create difficulties in obtaining the documentation to prove their income and prevents them from using the automated Data Retrieval Tool to import verified income data from the IRS onto their FAFSA form. 

Non-Pell-eligible applicants are not selected for income verification, which the Department said disproportionately burdens students from low-income backgrounds and students of color.  

The Department announcement said changes will make targeting verification for the 2021-2022 FAFSA cycle easier for millions of students from low-income backgrounds and help them receive the funding they need. 

“Targeting verification to focus on identity theft and fraud this aid cycle ensures we address immediate student needs, continue to protect the integrity of the Federal Pell Grant Program, and reduce barriers to access for underserved students,” Cordray said. “We will continue to evaluate what improvements can be done longer-term to make the verification process more equitable while still preventing fraud.” 

According to the announcement, Department research shows that targeting verification for the 2021-2022 aid cycle can help around 200,000 more students from low-income backgrounds and students of color enroll in college and continue on the path to a degree. 

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