Rep. Dollar Sponsors Legislation to Simplify HOPE Application

ATLANTA — State Representative Matt Dollar (R-Marietta) today announced the introduction of House Bill 324. This legislation would remove the new requirement that HOPE scholars have to fill out the lengthy and invasive Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

“This change will make the process much easier for HOPE scholars and their families,” said Rep. Dollar.

A recently enacted Georgia law now requires all state agencies to verify the lawful presence of any individual who applies for a public benefit. This law provides an exemption for the University System of Georgia (USG) and the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) because these state institutions already verify that their students are lawfully present in the United States in a manner that is in compliance with federal law. Although the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC), like USG and TCSG, is required to verify the lawful presence of students receiving public benefits, like HOPE, in accordance with federal law, the GSFC is not exempt from the state law.
“The law currently requires GSFC to waste state resources by annually re-verifying more than 210,000 students enrolled in Georgia’s colleges, universities, and technical schools who have already been verified as lawfully present by the USG and TCSG,” continued Rep. Dollar.

HB 324 would provide the GSFC the same exemption currently given to the USG and TCSG. The GSFC, like the USG and TCSG, would still be required to verify lawful presence in a manner that complies with federal law. Further, to ensure that no public funds are expended inappropriately, GSFC would continue to contractually require all schools receiving funding from GSFC to follow the requirements of federal law. GSFC would also continue to conduct program audits of the schools to verify that they are in compliance with federal laws. In instances where an incorrect granting of public funds has occurred, GSFC would continue to require the offending college, university, or technical school to refund the money to the state treasury.

“This is yet another incentive, beyond the federal law, for the schools to conduct this check appropriately,” added Rep. Dollar.

Because GSFC is not currently exempt from the state law requiring lawful presence verification, GSFC must confirm the lawful presence all applicants for HOPE and other state grants and loans for postsecondary students. It can accomplish this in one of two ways: 1) GSFC can annually collect sworn affidavits from every student attesting to the applicant’s citizenship status, as well as a secure and verifiable document that proves the applicants citizenship status, like a driver’s license or birth certificate; or 2) GSFC can verify an applicant’s citizenship through the collection of the FAFSA. Because it would be unworkable for GSFC to collect affidavits and supporting documents from over 210,000 students each year, it instead requires students to file the federal FAFSA form. Furthermore, it would require not just new applicants, but all students currently seeking a public benefit, such as HOPE, to complete the FAFSA every year. In prior years, about half of all HOPE recipients completed the FAFSA.

Because HB 324 would exempt GSFC from the state law requiring lawful presence verification, the legislation would allow GSFC to remove its new rule that requires all HOPE scholars to fill out the FAFSA form. Instead, students could go back to using the simpler Georgia Student Financial Aid Application System (GSFAPPS), the state application for student benefits.

The GSFC provides financial aid to help Georgia students at the state’s colleges, universities, and technical schools. GSFC programs include state- and lottery-funded scholarships, grants and low-interest loans.

For more information on HB 324, please click here.

Representative Matt Dollar represents the citizens of District 45, which includes portions of Cobb and Fulton counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2003, and is currently the Chairman of the Interstate Cooperation Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Insurance, Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment, and Transportation committees.