Congress Works to Aid College Access in Omnibus Bill

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Over the weekend, Congress announced details of a $1.4 trillion omnibus bill that will include $900 billion COVID-19 relief aid for businesses and individuals, simplifying Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), student loan forgiveness, reinstating Pell grants to incarcerated students, and more.

The bill, which is expected to reach its final agreement with U.S. House and Senate lawmakers this week, covers a wide range of efforts to help those affected by the pandemic, especially marginalised groups in higher education.

When officially signed off, the legislation will undo a 26-year ban enacted by the Clinton administration that blocks incarcerated students from receiving Pell grants and repeal the1998 Higher Education Act amendment that makes students with drug offenses ineligible for federal financial aid for up to two years after their conviction.

A FASFA analysis released in September by the National College Attainment Network found that nearly 100,000 fewer high school seniors completed financial aid applications to attend college this year and that low-income students were disportionately impacted by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new deal looks to expand FASFA outreach efforts in underrepresented communities and reduce the amount of questions on the form from 108 to 36. 

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is a longtime advocate for simplifying FASFA and believes the updates will “enable an additional 555,000 students qualify for Pell grants each year; and enable an additional 1.7 million students qualify to receive the maximum Pell grant award each year,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

Additionally, the bipartisan agreement will forgive nearly $1.3 billion in federal loans to historically Black colleges and universities.