As midterms close out and finals approach, paying for college and avoiding student debt loom larger for many Roadrunners than even the most challenging coursework. Fortunately, some federal student financial assistance is free — but you have to ask for it first. And the paperwork needed to make that ask can be frustrating and intimidating. We must make it easier for high school students to enroll in college and for college students to graduate without crushing debt.

Addressing the student debt crisis is central to promoting a strong economy, opening up opportunities and ensuring security for those who work hard. Cracks in our financial aid system often perpetuate inequality — inequality that stands in the way of the American Dream. To close the widening economic gap, we have to close the college affordability gap.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2020-2021 school year is already available at https://studentaid.ed.gov. If you submitted a FAFSA last year, you are eligible to use the Renewal FAFSA this year. On this form, some of the data you previously provided will be prefilled. The priority deadline to complete the FAFSA is Jan. 15, 2020.

After a decade of working for a more streamlined financial aid process, the FAFSA is still too complicated, confusing and underutilized. I am working to reform the process and remove the intimidation. Last year, high school graduates who failed to submit a FAFSA missed out on $2.6 billion in free money for college. With the ever-rising cost of college, this financial aid is needed more than ever.

I successfully authored an amendment to simplify this process and make the FAFSA available on Oct. 1, so students have more time to navigate the process. But, because barriers remain, I have filed two bills this Congress. These reform efforts are particularly important in Texas because, in order to graduate, next year’s seniors will be required to complete the FAFSA.

My bipartisan Student Aid Simplification Act requires the Department of Education and IRS to do the heavy lifting for students by securely sharing the remaining taxpayer information required for FAFSA completion.

My second bill, the Equitable Student Aid Access Act, would allow students from households with income below $34,000, or that already receive certain means-tested benefits, to use a simplified FAFSA form and automatically qualify for the full Pell Grant. That bill also makes it easier for students to make financially-informed decisions about the cost of college by ensuring colleges and students speak the same language by developing universal terms and formatting for financial aid offer letters.

As I push forward to make aid more accessible to all, I welcome your counsel. If you have insight into or ideas about how we can alleviate the student debt crisis and break down barriers to equal opportunity, please email me at lloyd.doggett@mail.house.gov. Likewise, I always welcome your input on any of the many federal issues that confront us right now at this difficult time for our nation. From issues like climate action to expanding healthcare access to holding President Trump accountable for his abuse of power, I welcome your advice and advocacy.

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