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Congresswoman Barbara Comstock

Representing the 10th District of Virginia

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Va. Congressional Delegation Urges Financial Aid Flexibility In Absence Of IRS Tool

April 26, 2017
Press Release
~ Encourages state officials to provide flexibility for students impacted by outage ~

WASHINGTON — Today, all members of the bipartisan Virginia congressional delegation called for Virginia education officials to encourage flexibility in financial aid deadlines due to the removal of an online tool commonly used to upload income information from tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is an important resource that allows students and families to automatically import their tax information onto the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and it is typically used by half of federal financial aid applicants. However, the tool was taken offline recently due to concerns about data security and potential identity theft.

In their letter to Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, the lawmakers noted that the IRS online tool is expected to be unavailable to applicants for scholarships, grants and loans until this Fall, resulting in potential delays and backlogs for students and their families.

The letter was signed by the entire Virginia congressional delegation: U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), and U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-6), Bobby Scott (D-3), Rob Wittman (R-1), Gerald E. Connolly (D-11), Morgan Griffith (R-9), Dave Brat (R-7), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-8), Barbara Comstock (R-10), Thomas A. Garrett, Jr. (R-5), A. Donald McEachin (D-4), and Scott Taylor (R-2).

Though data privacy is paramount, the suspension of the DRT will require manual input of additional financial data and poses a significant administrative burden that will likely impact Virginia students’ ability to receive student aid—particularly for first generation students and those from lower-income families. The members urge Secretary Trent to encourage the Commonwealth’s colleges and universities to provide flexibility in deadlines for need-based scholarships and grants and institutional financial aid.

A copy of the members’ letter is available here. The full text also appears below.

 

April 26, 2017

The Honorable Dietra Trent
Secretary
Virginia Department of Education
P.O. Box 2120
Richmond, VA 23218 

Dear Secretary Trent:

We write today regarding the outage of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) and its impact on institutional and statewide deadlines for financial aid. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

The DRT allows students and families to automatically import their tax information onto the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and has assisted millions of students in applying for federal student aid. In 2014-15, about half of all FAFSA applicants used the DRT.  Out of concern for the security of taxpayer data, the IRS has temporarily suspended the tool until extra security protections can be added. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen recently testified before the Senate Finance Committee that the tool is not expected to be restored until October 2017. While data privacy is paramount, and these additional security protections are necessary, the tool’s suspension creates a significant impediment for applicants completing the FAFSA.

The suspension of this tool will require the manual input of financial data that is not always easily accessible. With priority financial aid deadlines for many of our public two-year institutions quickly approaching or recently passed, the unexpected removal of the DRT will likely impact Virginia students’—particularly those who are low-income and first generation—ability to receive student aid. In order to accommodate the additional administrative burden that many students and families now face, we respectfully request that you encourage colleges and universities to offer flexibility to applicants for need-based scholarships and grants and institutional financial aid. Such flexibility is necessary to ensure that all students seeking aid in the Commonwealth are able to successfully submit their applications without undue burden.

Thank you again for your consideration of these concerns, and for your continued commitment to providing students with access to affordable postsecondary education. We welcome the opportunity to work closely with you on this important matter.