GOP senator demands answers from Biden admin on ‘confusing’ regulation that could crush farming families

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FIRST ON FOX: Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst has penned a bipartisan letter with fellow senators to the Biden administration expressing concern that farmers and their families are being subjected to significant financial harm by a lengthy delay in updating the process of applying for college financial aid.

“We write to express continued concern with the impact the delayed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) rollout will have for students and families, in particular those from family farm and small business backgrounds,” Ernst and 13 other senators, including Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, wrote to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona this week.

“The FAFSA Simplification Act was signed into law on December 27, 2020, and yet the Department of Education (Ed) released an incomplete and confusing ‘soft launch’ of the new form exactly three months delayed from the typical October 1 release date,” the letter continued. “In addition, Ed announced on January 30, Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) would not be sent to colleges and universities until early March. This creates an untenable timeline for students to review aid offers and compare their school options, with schools already pushing aid offers back to late April or early May.”

The senators wrote that Question 22 on the FAFSA form, related to student assets, requires “each student report the net worth of their family’s businesses or for-profit agricultural operations,” which the senators say doesn’t take into account the financial complexities of operating a farm.

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President Biden and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa (Getty Images)

“This question fundamentally misunderstands how farm families operate, as the stream of revenue for crops and livestock varies significantly year-over-year, and assets cannot be cashed out to support a loan in the same capacity as traditional investments,” the letter states. 

“As defined by Ed, these reported assets may include, ‘fair market value of land, buildings, livestock, unharvested crops, and machinery.’ These assets can range well into the millions of dollars, with the price of a combine harvester alone often exceeding $400,000. This, in combination with projected declines in revenue for nearly every agricultural sector for 2023 harvest, indicates Ed lacked critical insight needed to develop this asset reporting requirement.”

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Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, kicks off her Roast and Ride event in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 3, 2023. The annual event helps to raise money for veteran charities and highlight Republican candidates and platforms. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The senators say that a farming family with a $60,000 annual income and $1 million in farming assets was previously paying $7,626 annually toward their child’s tuition and that under the new formula, that same family would have to pay up to $41,056.

“In this economy, asking Iowa farm families to pay five times more to send their kids to college is a nonstarter,” Ernst told Fox News Digital. 

“As a farm kid myself and a recipient of a Pell Grant, I understand how critical federal student aid can be for Iowans. That’s why I’m leading the charge to force Biden’s Department of Ed to reevaluate their FAFSA form and ensure folks of all backgrounds can pursue higher education if they choose to do so. Rural students will not be pushed to the side and ignored under my watch.”

The letter asks who the Department of Education consulted in the farming community about the regulation and whether a discussion took place about how it would impact families.

“How should families reasonably calculate the value of their family farm holdings i.e., recent appraisals, commensurate value?” the senators asked. “Given that Ed has not provided guidance on a number of important questions involving farm assets.”

The senators also asked the Department of Education if it will “conduct an in-depth impact analysis of data throughout the 2024-2025 application process to understand the year-over-year impact of transitioning from the EFC formula to SAI formula?”

Ernst was joined on the letter by Sens. John Tester, D-Mont.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Pete Ricketts, R-Neb.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; James Risch, R-Idaho; Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss.; Deb Fisher, R-Neb.; Roger Marshall, R-Kan.; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; John Boozman, R-Ark.; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; and John Hoeven, R-N.D. 

Miguel Cardona speaks during interview

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his office at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

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Earlier this month, Ernst and Grassley released a factsheet in a press release that explained how the Education Department’s delayed rollout of the streamlined FAFSA system has made it more difficult for students to apply to school and could send the financial contributions of farming families “skyrocketing.”

“Prospective college students and their families ought to have ready access to their financial aid offerings. But this year’s FAFSA launch has created more headaches than it’s helped,” Grassley said. “Senator Ernst and I will continue working with the Department of Education to iron out wrinkles in the new FAFSA, so that when the time comes for young Iowans to choose their college, they’ll have the financial information they need.” 

The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.



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