July 7, 2023

Senator Ricketts’ Weekly Column: Farm Families Need College to Stay Affordable

July 7, 2023

The deadline for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms for the 2023-2024 academic year recently closed on June 30th. FAFSA is the form students and prospective students fill out to apply for grants, work-study, and low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Education. Before the next FAFSA application cycle opens up on October 1, there is a critical error that Congress must fix to ensure farm families can continue to receive fair consideration of their applications for aid. 

In 2022, over 80,000 Nebraskans filed for federal financial assistance for higher education through the FAFSA form. Millions of American families, including tens of thousands in Nebraska, rely on federal financial aid to afford college. The once 108-questions-long form was overly complex. Efforts under both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden have worked to simplify it.

During the most recent simplification effort last year, however, The FAFSA Simplification Act changed the way a family’s assets, income and debt are calculated. As written, the rule unfairly assumes that small businesses and family farms can liquidate assets quickly to pay for college. This is despite the longstanding FAFSA process exclusion of non-liquid farm assets, such as farmland and equipment. These exclusions protected our farm families’ access to federal student aid. The repercussions of this new rule would be devastating for farm families and other similar family-owned small businesses across the country. The most the significant change to FAFSA included altering the federal needs analysis formula used to determine students’ financial aid eligibility. Without being fixed, this change could force small businesses and family agriculture operations to choose between sending their children to college and liquidating assets or dismantling their businesses.

I’m a big believer in making government services as easy for taxpayers to access and navigate as possible. I commend the previous Congresses for working to simplify and streamline the FAFSA application. However, the negative impact last year’s changes will have on farm families must be addressed swiftly before applications open with these new mandates on October 1.

I’m often reminded in Washington how easy it is for government bureaucracy to fall out of touch with the very people it is supposed to serve. This FAFSA situation is yet another reminder of how critical it is to stay vigilant and ensure we are constantly sharing the reality facing agriculture families. Agriculture is the heart and soul of what we do in Nebraska, and I’m honored to fight for our family farms, ranches, and other agriculture-based businesses in Washington.  

It is our duty to make sure farm families aren’t punished for the essential job they do to feed and fuel our nation. There are  44,800  farms and ranches in Nebraska and small businesses represent  99.1%  of all private enterprises in Nebraska. That’s why I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor of Senator Joni Ernst’s (R-IA) Family Farm and Small Business Exemption Act. The bipartisan bill would exempt family farms and small businesses from the new requirements in the FAFSA form. It is my hope Congress and the administration will work together quickly to protect these families’ access to federal aid.

Along with Senator Fischer and the rest of my colleagues in the Nebraska delegation, my team and I are here to serve you. Contact my team and I anytime by phone at  202-224-4224 or on my website  at  www.ricketts.senate.gov/contact. I am honored to serve our great state and will continue to work to protect the Good Life from Washington overreach.

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