DeVos urged to help students apply for financial aid while online tool is down

DeVos urged to help students apply for financial aid while online tool is down
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Lawmakers are calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to help students complete their federal financial aid applications now that an online tool, which allowed students to directly access and input tax information, is unavailable.

Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce sent a letter to DeVos on Monday asking her to notify students, parents and borrowers that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DTR) on and is temporarily unavailable and give guidance on how to complete their forms without it.

The IRS earlier this month decided to pull the online tool as a precautionary step following concerns that personal information could be taken and used by identity thieves.

The IRS’s Data Retrieval Tool allowed students to access their and their parents' tax information from the IRS and directly input it into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA.

In the letter, the lawmakers said the DTR allows for more efficient and accurate transfer of federal tax return information electronically, which in turn enables students, families and borrowers to complete the loan application process more easily.

“While individuals can complete FAFSA and [Income-Driven Repayment] IDR applications through alternatives to the DRT, the current outage will lead to additional burden for individuals filling out their FAFSA or IDR applications,” they wrote. “The absence of the DRT could also delay students’ federal, state, and institutional financial aid and loan repayment assistance.”

In addition to notifying students, the committees' chairs, ranking Democrats and 39 other members asked the Education Department to consider allowing applicants to use signed copies of their tax returns to meet document requirements.

They also asked the agency to ensure the Federal Student Aid Call Center is capable of handling the influx of calls as a result of the DTR outage and to communicate directly with states that have upcoming financial aid deadlines.