The Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-76), also known as the HEROES Act of 2003, provides financial and administrative relief for active-duty members of the military, including members of the National Guard who were called to active service by the President or Secretary of Defense for a period of more than 30 consecutive days. The HEROES Act also provides relief for people who live or work in a disaster area or who suffer economic hardship because of a war, military operation or national emergency. (National emergencies must have been declared by the President. But, natural disaster areas, which can include earthquakes, mudslides, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes, may be declared by a federal, state or local official.)
The law, which was made permanent by P.L. 110-93, allows the U.S. Department of Education to waive or modify statutory and regulatory provisions concerning Title IV federal student aid for #$%affected individual%$#s in connection with a war, military operation or national emergency.
The U.S. Department of Education has published more than a dozen waivers in the Federal Register, volume 68, number 239, pages 69312-69318.
These waivers give college financial aid administrators significant flexibility in addressing the needs of affected individuals.
- The justification for a professional judgment adjustment does not need to be made on a case-by-case basis if the student and/or a dependent student’s parents are affected individuals. College financial aid administrators are authorized to substitute current calendar year income for prior tax year income on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and are encouraged to pick the option that best reflects the family’s financial status and results in the greatest amount of financial aid eligibility for the student.
- Rules requiring students who withdraw to return or repay unearned grants are waived when the student withdraws because of his/her status as an affected individual.
- Verification requirements are modified if a student, a student’s spouse, if applicable, and/or a dependent student’s parents are affected individuals. Members of the military are not required to file a federal income tax return while serving on active duty (or qualifying National Guard duty) and are not required to file for an extension with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If the student’s FAFSA is selected for verification of income and/or tax paid information, it is sufficient for them to provide a written statement about their status as an affected individual and a copy of all W-2 statements. The requirement to have a signed statement for verifying household size and/or the number of children enrolled in college is waived when the parent is unavailable to sign the statement because of the parent’s status as an affected individual.
- College financial aid administrators may relax certain deadlines. They may allow oral instead of written requests and allow requests from family members of the affected individual. Colleges may waive a student’s failure to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) if the failure is due to the student’s status as an affected individual.
- Service for up to 3 years is not counted against federal student loan grace periods, in-school and military deferment periods and forbearance periods, when the borrower is an affected individual. Such a borrower is also entitled to another full grace period upon completion of his or her service. Collection of defaulted federal education loans may be suspended for up to 3 years (plus a 3-month transition period) for affected individuals. Service periods are also excluded from periods required to be uninterrupted and/or consecutive (e.g., for loan cancellation or rehabilitation) if the reason for the interruption is related to the borrower’s status as an affected individual.
Members of the military who are serving on active duty and members of the National Guard serving on a qualifying duty should notify their education and consumer lenders as well as colleges about their service to ensure that they receive all of the benefits to which they are entitled. They should provide a copy of documentation of their status with the request for financial relief.