FAST Act Introduced in 114th Congress

January 8, 2015

Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy

On the first full day of the 114th Congress, higher education advocates received a pleasant surprise yesterday when Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chair Senator Alexander (R-TN) discussed the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act on the Senate floor. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Burr (R-NC), John Isakson (R-GA), and Angus King (I-ME) will reduce the FAFSA form to two questions, use prior prior year tax data for that form, allow students to use Pell Grants year-round, and streamline federal financial aid programs. 

Working on this bill since spring of 2014, Senators Alexander and Bennet once again stressed the importance of streamlining the financial aid process for students. Both used the full-length paper FAFSA form on the Senate floor to demonstrate that the burden the federal government places on families is too great, and cited testimony from a fall 2013 hearing when NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook, along with three other expert witnesses, all said that a two question FAFSA form would provide the same information to the federal government. Additionally, the FAST Act will use prior prior year (PPY) income information for the two questions asked on the “FAFSA on a Postcard” form: adjusted gross income and family size.

In addition to simplifying the FAFSA form, the FAST Act will also re-institute a version of the year-round Pell Grant program, allowing students to attend school on their schedule, accelerate their time to degree, and decrease their loan burden. Finally, the FAST Act streamlines federal aid programs to have one grant (Pell Grant), one undergraduate loan, one graduate loan, and one parent loan. The repayment plans for students would be consolidated into two options: a standard 10-year plan and an income-based plan. 

NCAN applauds Senators Alexander, Bennet, Booker, Burr, Isakson, and King for their work to improve the financial aid process for all students, particularly those who are low-income. Drastically reducing the number of questions on the FAFSA form, using the second prior tax-year information to allow for easier form completion, and providing a year-round Pell Grant opportunity will increase access to financial aid for the students our members serve. NCAN looks forward to participating in the conversation about the FAFSA simplification process and to learning more about how the student loan programs and repayment plans would be implemented.

Introduction of the Repay Act

Senators King and Burr, along with co-sponsors Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Warner (D-VA), also introduced the Repay Act alongside the FAST Act. The Repay Act, also from the last Congress, outlines the loan consolidation and repayment plans mentioned in the FAST Act.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

Both of these bills address programs that are part of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which is due for reauthorization this year. Senator Alexander plans to use these bills as a starting point for that discussion, which he said on the Senate floor will take place this spring after the renewal of No Child Left Behind.

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