Fixing the FAFSA for Homeless Youth:
Congress Considers HEA Reauthorization with Testimony from a SHC Leader
Image above: Witnesses at the November 27 Senate Committee Hearing on FAFSA
Homelessness, lack of education, and poverty are inextricably linked. Recent research from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that young adults with annual household incomes that were less than $24,000 were 162% more likely to experience homelessness. However, when controlled for income, unemployment was not strongly correlated with homelessness. This finding suggests that we must prioritize efforts to lift children and youth out of homelessness and poverty through better paying jobs, and the education and services necessary for securing and keeping such jobs.
The upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act provides a critical opportunity to do just that.
On November 27, the 115th Congress began the reauthorization process for the Higher Education Act with a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
While access to financial aid is only one component of success in higher education, it is foundational: without access to financial aid, many youth and young adults cannot continue their education at all. This is particularly true of youth who are experiencing homelessness, whose deep poverty puts post-secondary education out of reach, and who often face numerous additional barriers related to histories of trauma, abuse, and instability. Unaccompanied homeless youth also lack a supporting parent to sign the FAFSA and provide the required income information. Although changes to the FAFSA in 2007 addressed some of these challenges, many barriers persist and have been documented both by a 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office and a 2017 analysis from SchoolHouse Connection.
The Senate HELP Committee hearing featured testimony from Elaine Williams, a SchoolHouse Connection Young Leader and remarkable advocate for homeless youth in Richmond, VA. Elaine told Senators of her early experiences with homelessness; the critical support provided by her McKinney-Vento social worker and college access programs prior to entering college; the numerous burdensome financial aid documentation requests she was confronted with once she got to college; the impact of those documentation requests on her education, student debt, and mental health; and her ultimate triumph, despite these hurdles, in graduating and serving as a role model to her siblings and other young people experiencing homelessness in Richmond.
Video caption: Senator Kaine (D-VA) introducing Elaine before she gives her testimony.
Elaine also provided recommendations for Congress, all of which are included in the pending Higher Education Access and Success Act for Homeless and Foster Youth (HEASHFY), 1795/H.R. 3740, which is bi-partisan and bicameral legislation that removes barriers to financial aid and creates critical supports for college access, retention, and completion.
We urge readers to support HEASHFY as HEA reauthorization moves forward, so that youth experiencing homelessness and youth from foster care can access and succeed in higher education, and in their lives.
- Urge your Members of Congress to sign on as a co-sponsor. We’ve created two sample letters in Microsoft Word – one for your U.S. Senators, and one for your U.S. Representative. Please download the letters and personalize them with local or state facts, as well as your own perspectives and experiences. Contact information for U.S. Senators may be found here. Contact information for U.S. Representatives may be found here.
- If you represent a local, state, or national organization, please sign your organization on as a supporter of HEASFHY by filling out this form.
- The 2018-2019 FAFSA is Out! Five Things You Need to Know.
- Sample form letter to determine the independent student status of unaccompanied homeless youth for the 2018-2019 FAFSA (Microsoft Word). This form letter may be edited as appropriate for your school district, institution of higher education, shelter, transitional living program, or street outreach program.
- Understanding Financial Aid Practice and Policy for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. This webinar, recorded on June 28, 2017, features presenters from the U.S. Department of Education and SchoolHouse Connection. Download the powerpoint and Q&A here.
- Q & A from Our Inboxes. SchoolHouse Connection receives many questions from educators, service providers, and the public, including about the FAFSA and access to higher education.
- “By supporting HEASHFY, You are Telling Me that You See Me, and that You Support My Education.” This SHC Guest Perspective from Jordyn Roark provides powerful testimony in support of the Higher Education Access and Success Act for Homeless and Foster Youth, S.1795/H.R. 3740.