Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutionsby Senator Michael F. Bennet
Posted on 2015-01-07
BENNET. Mr. President, I am delighted to be on the floor today
with, among others, Senator Alexander, who has worked so hard on the
bill we are talking about today. Through the Chair, I want to wish him
well in his new role as chair of the Health, Education, Labor and
Pensions Committee on which I serve. He is quite right to have said
this bill came to us as a result of testimony in front of that
committee by a variety of witnesses but all of whom agreed that the
current system is completely unwieldy. I would also like to thank the
other cosponsors--Senators Burr, Booker, Isakson, and King--for joining
the efforts and for being here today as well.
I first became aware of this problem when I was superintendent of the Denver public schools. We had a couple who very generously donated $50 million for scholarships for kids who were graduating from the Denver public schools and who had applied to college. One of the things we learned in that process was how terrible the process was for filling out the financial aid forms for the Federal Government. That was a requirement we had for people to be able to be eligible for this scholarship. We literally had to put new rooms in our schools, in our high schools, and staff them with people in order to fill out these forms.
Every year tens of thousands of students and parents in Colorado and millions more across the country fill out the FAFSA as part of the college application process. It is the gateway to financial aid. By some estimates, over 2 million people who are eligible for financial aid and Pell grants do not get it simply because of the complexity of the form.
I ask unanimous consent to show some demonstrative evidence.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. BENNET. Here is this year's form. It is a different color than the one we had last year. This is the form a student has to fill out-- 108 questions. This is the instruction manual that goes with the form, which is something in the neighborhood of 66 pages long. It is very tiny print.
To be honest, the ridiculousness of this form would be funny if it were not for the lost time, money, and energy our country spends on it. Here are some of the examples of the questions families have to put up with on this form. Several times there are questions about income. We have been told by the witnesses we had that we only need two questions. There are a number of questions about income, investments, and assets. Each requires notes and instructions which are contained in here.
Question 36: What was your and your spouse's adjusted gross income for 2014? Question 37: Enter your and your spouse's income tax for 2014.
Question 39: How much did you earn from working in 2014? Question 40: How much did your spouse earn from working in 2014? It is ridiculous.
The questions become even more complicated.
Question 42: As of today, what is the net worth of your and your spouse's investments, including real estate but don't including the home you live in? That is the kind of reaction we get all over the country when we talk about this at home.
The instruction form here says, for question No. 43, the net worth of businesses and/or investments.
Business or farm value includes the current market value of land, buildings, machinery, equipment, inventory, et cetera. Do not include your primary farm. Do not include the net worth of a family-owned and controlled small business with more than 100 full-time or full-time equivalent employees.
Just to make it really clear, in dark print, bolded print, it says: business/farm value minus business/farm debt equals net worth of business. This is as complicated as any tax form.
At a time when the demands of the global economy require us to have more college access, not less, it is a shame that this bureaucratic piling up of questions is making it harder and harder for people to go to college.
So I think this is going to be great for our students, to get it down to a postcard that has two questions. The estimate is that the time saved by moving away from this existing form is the equivalent of 50,000 jobs that could be spent actually providing college guidance to young people who will now have the benefit of knowing, as Senator Alexander said so eloquently, what financial aid they will be eligible for in their junior year before they apply to college rather than waiting until their senior year, until they have already been admitted to college. That makes no sense to the people we represent, and there is a reason for it--it is because it makes no sense.
My hope is that this is a bill we will be able to move this year. Again, I thank Senator Alexander for his tremendous leadership.