On Friday, May 15, 2020, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and Children’s Aid sent a letter to Secretary Betsy DeVos asking for assistance to provide additional guidance about flexibility related to income documentation for independent students during the pandemic.

COVID-19 is putting many young people in, or on the verge of, a crisis. Recent polls and survey results of transition age young people in/from foster care (age 18-24) revealed that many are suffering and having a hard time meeting their needs. They are struggling to stay housed and afford food and are worried about their future. Thirty-one percent of young people reported they lost access to academic or post-secondary educational supports as a result of COVID-19 and 1 in 5 young people indicated they are on their own – or almost entirely alone.

In the letter, CWLA and Children’s Aid states that:

“Verification of Non-filing (VNF) has always presented challenges for foster youth, and the pandemic has dramatically increased these obstacles. Youth in foster care are struggling during the pandemic and, in particular, are unable to complete their financial aid packages because financial aid offices are requiring tax documentation or W-2s that youth are unable to get right now.”

“When filling out a FAFSA application, foster youth must indicate on the application that they are “independent”. Upon receiving a student’s FAFSA, higher education institutions (in state and out of state) will ask foster youth to submit proof of independence along with a Proof of Non-Filer form. This Proof of Non-Filer form is obtained by the student filling out the T- 4506 form from the IRS. Once the T-4506 form is submitted, the IRS will mail a copy of the Proof of Non-Filer letter to the student’s address.”

“The process prior to the COVID-19 pandemic could take up to two months for youth to receive the Non-Filer form. In light of COVID-19, foster youth and their education specialists have shared that the IRS has not been responsive to requests for Proof of Non-Filer letters via submission of the T- 4506 form by mail. This has caused a significant delay for both current and prospective students.”

With the growing demand placed on the IRS in light of COVID-19, foster youth have been unable to obtain their Proof of Non-Filer form which is required by schools in order to complete their financial aid package. This joint letter from CWLA and Children’s Aid requesting Secretary DeVos to offer clarifying guidance that independent students can simply attest to their independent status right now is a step in the right direction for of removing a barrier for former foster youth pursing higher education.