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During Committee Hearing on Reopening College Campuses, Senator Hassan Pushes Department of Education to Help Students Economically Impacted by COVID-19

Senator Hassan Recently Led Bipartisan Call for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to Change FAFSA Form to Account for Economic Impact to Students’ Income Due to Pandemic

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, during a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing today on reopening college campuses, urged the Department of Education to help ensure that college students can receive adjusted financial aid to account for changes in their financial situation, such as a lost job or income, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.


To watch the Senator’s questioning, click here.


Last week, I sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary DeVos with Senators Tim Scott, Loeffler, and Booker urging the Department of Education to immediately ensure that students receive the financial aid that they are now eligible for due to the economic impacts of COVID-19,” Senator Hassan said. “Specifically, we asked the Department to issue guidance to colleges to help ensure that students’ financial aid eligibility can be appropriately adjusted and to update the online FAFSA form to capture recent changes in income for financial aid applicants.”


Senator Hassan asked college presidents, who were witnesses at the hearing, to explain how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their students and how to best support students seeking affordable higher education opportunities during this crisis. All three witnesses said that their students have been impacted financially by this crisis and that more needs to be done to support these students.


"I don't doubt that many of [the students] have encountered a significant economic setback since they expressed that intention [to come to Purdue]," Former Governor Mitchell Daniels, president of Purdue University, said, "...I applaud the initiative that you led and those who joined you in it. Clearly we all need to do all we can to get aid more swiftly, and directly, and flexibly – which is a point I think you just drew our attention to – to every young person who needs it." 


"It is no question that our students have been negatively impacted by COVID-19," said Dr. Logan Hampton, president of Lane College. "...They get their FAFSA based on the previous income, those incomes have now dropped, their families will have less means to help them come August." 


Dr. Christina Paxson of Brown University agreed: "We're also hearing from students who are saying 'I know my FAFSA was correct, but it is no longer in anyway an accurate portrayal of my families economic circumstances.'


In responding to current events, Senator Hassan also highlighted the role that colleges and universities play in civic discourse: “Between the COVID-19 crisis and the rightful outrage following the killing of George Floyd, this is a deeply challenging time for our country. That is true at our institutions of higher education, and as we grapple with how to re-open safely during a global pandemic we must also remember that higher education institutions have historically served as places of civil discourse.”


Lastly, Senator Hassan questioned Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, on how to contain any potential spike of COVID-19 cases on college campuses in the fall.


“You’ve also spoken about, even with the best public health protocols in place to ensure that students, faculty, and staff practice social distancing, recommended hand washing, and wear masks, it’s likely inevitable that there will be spikes in cases on college campuses,” Senator Hassan said.  


Dr. Benjamin reiterated that colleges and universities should have plans in place for when there are cases of COVID-19 detected. He said that it is imperative that institutions coordinate with their state and local public health departments to not only implement testing and contact tracing capabilities, but have plans in place to contain the virus.