With the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool, a tool that allows student loan borrowers to automatically upload tax information to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), out of action, federal lawmakers are calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to fill the gap with alternatives.
Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce penned a letter to DeVos earlier this week urging her to alert student loan borrowers, parents, and college bound students that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is unavailable in the online FAFSA application. The letter continued on to assert the need for providing guidance to borrowers who are completing their applications without the tool.
The lawmakers are calling on the Education Department to engage in a number of steps to deal with the situation. For starters, it wants the Department of Education to provide “prominent” notice, guidance, and alternatives on its websites and social media platforms. These politicians also want the Department of Education to consider accepting signed copies of tax returns from those who were already affected by the absence of the tool. Additionally, the letter called for the Department’s customer service centers to be staffed with enough representatives to handle the deluge of calls because of the issue.
“The DRT allows for the more efficient and accurate transfer of federal tax return information electronically, which in turn enables students, families and borrowers to complete these processes more easily,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “The absence of the DRT could also delay students’ federal, state, and institutional financial aid and loan repayment assistance.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Education and Internal Revenue Service took down the tool due to data security concerns. The IRS said it was a precautionary move over worries that hackers could steal sensitive personal information. The IRS and Department of Education did not give a time frame for when the tool will be back online, but it did mention the possibility of a several week delay.
The problem with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool for FAFSA comes at a time when the deadline to complete the application is looming in multiple states; in fact, it already passed in other states, potentially hurting countless students.
Take Texas for one example. The deadline to fill out FAFSA was March 15. Rep. Lloyd Doggett called on the Department of Education to make the tool workable again before his state’s deadline passed. He warned that if it remains offline, then millions in student financial aid could “go unclaimed.” Unfortunately, his calls went unheeded.
Author: Andrew Rombach
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