Education Department says FAFSA fix is coming for Social Security issue

February 20, 2024

A fix is on its way for students who haven't been able to complete the new federal financial aid application because their parents don't have Social Security numbers, the Department of Education said Tuesday.

The Education Department said a permanent fix will come in the first half of March, but in the meantime, there's a workaround. Students should complete the steps for the workaround only if they must meet "critical state, institutional or other scholarship organization aid deadlines" by showing a submission date and having someone who needs to complete a portion of the application but hasn't a Social Security number.

The process will allow them to complete the form but result in an "incomplete" submission that will need to be "corrected" later, it said.

News of a workaround and a permanent fix is likely a relief to students who have been locked out of completing the Education Department's simplified 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Since the Education Department launched its new form three months later than usual at the end of 2023, the process has been riddled with glitches, and this particular one has hit one of the most vulnerable populations hardest. "If you're a U.S. citizen, the immigration status of your parents should not be a barrier to receiving federal financial aid for higher education," said U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman in a release.

"It seems like we're hurting people we’re supposed to be helping get financial aid or get more financial aid," said Jack Wallace, financial adviser at educational consultant Yrefy LLC.

What's the Department of Education doing?

  1. The Education Department is offering a workaround for students to submit an incomplete FAFSA before the submission issue is fully resolved next month. Detailed instructions are being sent to groups who support these students on Tuesday and the department will post the instructions on in English and Spanish on Wednesday. The student can manually enter information for the contributor without a Social Security number, submit the FAFSA, and later return to submit a correction when the full fix is implemented and corrections functionality is available in the first half of March.
  2. The Education Department expanded the number of call center staff, including Spanish speakers to accelerate this process and cut down on translation needs, to help people establish a account if they need help.
  3. The Education Department is also establishing a new targeted listserv for students and families for communities affected by these issues to sign up for regular updates on the FAFSA. 

What are people saying about the fix?

The Education Department estimates roughly 2% of applicants overall face this issue. Justin Draeger, head of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators trade group, said he appreciated the Education Department's efforts but that the interim solution should not deter the ultimate goal.

"This interim solution – which will be confusing and burdensome to many – must not distract us from the need to stay squarely focused on a permanent fix," Draeger said.

College advisers are glad for a solution, but they fear all the glitches this year will keep students from pursuing college.

"These problems will cause students to forgo college this fall, and possibly altogether," said Shannon Vasconcelos, Bright Horizons College Coach, a unit of child care operator Bright Horizons. "If you can’t fill out the FAFSA, you can’t get the money you need to go to college. It’s as simple as that. Many of these students likely don’t even know what the problem is – they’re just getting an error that doesn’t make sense – and students in a vulnerable position are unlikely to ask for help.

"With obstacle upon obstacle being thrown in front of them, many will give up at some point along the way," she said. "It’s unfortunate that this “FAFSA Simplification” that was meant to increase educational access is seeming to do the opposite.”

By:  Medora Lee
Source: USA Today