The U.S. Department of Education released guidance on Thursday, July 9, 2020, reminding Colleges and Universities (Institutions of Higher Education/IHEs) of the existing flexibility for verification of non-filing from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in, this guidance, allowing IHEs to accept a signed statement in place of a W-2 for foster youth. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
“In the case of foster care youth, given the unlikelihood that such students would have earned enough to require them to file taxes, we will permit the institution to accept a signed statement from the foster care youth that he or she earned less than the amount that triggers the requirement for taxpayers to file tax returns.” You can find the guidance here.
The guidance is a direct result of work by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (R-IN) raising the issue with the Department of Education on the difficulties that foster youth were having with completing their financial aid packages. The issue has become more challenging during the COVID-19 outbreak.
In April, Children’s Aid NYC reached out to CWLA about an emerging problem for youth in foster care applying for higher education assistance. When filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application, foster youth must indicate 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.
As explained by Children’s Aid, the process prior to the COVID-19 pandemic could take up to two months for youth to receive the Non-Filer form. Due to 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. Most, if not all foster youth across the state are unable to submit the necessary documentation to their school’s financial aid offices at this time, in order to receive their completed financial aid package/award.
Congressman Davis and Congresswoman Walorski worked with Children’s Aid NYC, CWLA, and the National Association Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) to further understand the issue and challenges and bring the matter to the Education Department which resulted in this new guidance.