Our guest blogger is Crosby Burns, special assistant for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress.
Earlier this week, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) urged the Obama administration to ensure equal treatment of LGBT applicants in the financial aid process. “Taxpayer-funded financial aid is often being misallocated based on sexual orientation when it should be based solely on financial need,” Kerry wrote in a letter addressed to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Indeed, as a result of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the FAFSA is often unable to count parents, spouses, step-children, and other family members as part of an individual’s application for financial aid. The resulting unequal treatment leads to significant distortions in the allocation of financial aid for applicants who have two mothers or two fathers. As a recent report from the Center for American Progress found, the FAFSA can rob these families of much needed aid to finance applicants’ higher education or could even result in a larger financial aid package to families headed by same-sex couples. LGBT youth and transgender applicants also experience significant barriers to submitting a FAFSA on time, complete, or at all.
For its part, the federal government assigned more than $134 billion in financial aid to more than 14 million students last year, making it the single largest grantee of aid. Since most other financial aid depends on the FAFSA application for federal aid, these distortions will trickle down throughout the entire financial aid application process, even outside of the federal government’s support.