FAFSA to include same-sex parents’ income

The change is meant to more accurately reflect all households.
May 08, 2013

 

For years, theater arts senior Andrew Buckholtz has only had to report the income of one of his two dads on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

In the past, students with same-sex or unmarried parents who lived together weren’t required to report the income of both parents — potentially qualifying them for more aid.

But next year, that will change.

Beginning with the 2014-15 FAFSA, dependent students with same-sex or unmarried parents who live together will need to report income and other information from both parents.

The change is meant to more accurately reflect the financial picture of all households. Although the modification isn’t expected to apply to many students, those affected could receive less aid when more income is reported.

“I can see how — since more and more states are approving marriage equality — that this should change,” Buckholtz said, adding that a majority of states should do so before the FAFSA is changed.

A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota is currently under debate in the state’s Legislature. If passed, Minnesota would be the 12th state to legally recognize gay marriage.

Initially, Buckholtz said, one of his dads was upset that only one parent was recognized on the FAFSA, because it seemed like another way the government wouldn’t recognize their partnership.

But Buckholtz said his family recognized he could potentially receive more aid by reporting only one parent’s information.

“This was … a way to get something out of the state,” he said.

Previous versions of the FAFSA weren’t representative of a student’s financial situation when only one parent was reported, said Ginny Dodds, manager of Minnesota state financial aid programs.

“The other parent was kind of ignored,” she said.

Even if a student’s parents were in a state-recognized same-sex marriage, she said the student would still only need to report one parent’s information because same-sex marriage isn’t recognized under federal law.

The revision, announced last week by the U.S. Department of Education, is meant to distribute aid more accurately to those who need it and “provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a news release.

“What this change does is that it puts families of same-sex or unmarried parents on the same footing as married parents living with their children,” said Kris Wright, director of the University’s Office of Student Finance, in an email.

For most affected students, reporting more income will lower the amount of need-based aid they receive, according to a letter to higher education institutions from the Department of Education.

If both parents have relatively low incomes, Dodds said the student’s aid might not be affected or could actually increase, if a small amount of income must support a now-larger household.

Buckholtz said he doesn’t expect a large change in his aid amount.

The change is expected to affect a small percentage of students overall, according to the Department of Education’s letter.

“I don’t know a whole lot of other people who have same-sex parents,” Buckholtz said.

About 80 percent of FAFSA applicants won’t be affected by the change because they’re either independent students or dependent students with married parents. A large portion of the remainder includes students who also won’t be affected, because they have parents who aren’t married but live separately.

Students with divorced parents or parents who were never married won’t be affected by the change, Dodds said, but will continue to report information for the parent they lived with the most in the past year.

 

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