On Friday, April 14th, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued new policy guidance on financial aid determinations for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness, and unaccompanied youth who are self-supporting and at risk of homelessness. ED’s guidance summarizes new federal financial aid processes that are in effect now, and outlines changes that will go into effect with the 2024-2025 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
SchoolHouse Connection applauds the release of this new federal guidance, and urges youth, school district homeless liaisons, state homeless education coordinators, homeless service providers, college access programs, and financial aid administrators to review it and help disseminate it to partners and colleagues.
Specifically, the guidance:
- Clarifies that regardless of their age, applicants who are unaccompanied and homeless, or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, qualify for a homeless youth determination and will be considered independent students on the FAFSA.
- States that the definitions of “homeless” and “unaccompanied” are the same as the ones in the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act. ED’s Application and Verification Guide provides more information on definitions, and emphasizes that the definition of homelessness is broader than just living “on the street.”
- Includes definitions for “at risk of homelessness” and “self-supporting.”
- Describes the processes by which youth who are determined to be “unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness,” or “unaccompanied, self-supporting, and at risk of homelessness,” will have their status as independent students carried over into subsequent award years if their circumstances have not changed and they are enrolled at the same institution.
- Describes the broader list of entities who are now authorized to make determinations of unaccompanied youth’s status, and states that if a student has received a documented determination from one of these authorities, the institution must not request additional documentation, proof, or statements, unless it has conflicting information about the student’s status.
- States that if a student indicates that they are an unaccompanied homeless youth—or unaccompanied and self-supporting youth at-risk of homelessness—and the student is unable to provide documentation from at least one of the authorized entities, financial aid administrators (FAA) must review the student’s circumstances and make the determination themselves without regard to the reasons that a student is homeless/unaccompanied. In these situations, FAAs must make a case-by-case decision that is based upon a written statement from, or a documented interview with, the student.
- Encourages FAAs to contact the local homeless liaison in their school district if they are uncertain how to make the homeless determination, but emphasizes that FAAs must still make the determination.
- Reminds FAAs that a student may be considered homeless if the student had to flee an abusive or threatening home environment, or had other unusual circumstances that resulted in the student not having a safe, stable place to live, even if the parent(s) would otherwise provide housing.
- Emphasizes that in all situations, institutions must be able to demonstrate that their policies and procedures for reviewing and making homeless youth determinations are compliant with statutory requirements.
- States that starting with the 2023-24 Award Year, institutions must review all requests for a determination of independence (including homeless youth) as quickly as possible, and as early as the year before the applicable award year, but no later than 60 days after the student enrolls.
Related SchoolHouse Connection FAFSA Resources
It is important to remind students that the FAFSA is available so they can pursue postsecondary education with as much financial aid as possible. Direct outreach to unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness is crucial. This email template can be used by liaisons, service providers, and financial aid administrators to inform students experiencing homelessness that the 2022-2023 FAFSA is now available, and to provide such students with the specific steps to help them complete the application.
The McKinney-Vento Act requires school district liaisons to inform unaccompanied homeless youth of their status as independent students for financial aid (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA) and help them obtain verification of that status. To help implement this policy, we’ve prepared a sample form letter to determine the independent student status of unaccompanied homeless youth.
The FAFSA Simplification Act aims to remove many of the barriers faced by youth experiencing homelessness or with experience in foster care. The new provisions for homeless and foster youth are in effect for the 2023-2024 award year, here’s a summary of the changes.
This video explains why and how a financial aid administrator should make a determination for unaccompanied homeless youth on the FAFSA. The video role plays what questions to ask and how to use the financial aid template for homeless youth determinations.
This page provides comprehensive FAFSA-related resources to help youth, K-12 educators, homeless service providers, and higher education professionals understand, prepare, and fill out the FAFSA.