Washington Update

Demise of the Defense of Marriage Act Affects Financial Aid

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This summer’s Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will change how the federal government calculates some students’ eligibility for financial aid.

DOMA, the federal law that defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman, prevented the federal government from considering same-sex spouses as married individuals when evaluating a family’s financial needs. With the striking down of DOMA, dependent children of same-sex couples will now be required to report both parents’ incomes when applying for need-based financial aid. Married students in same-sex unions will be required to report their spouses’ incomes as well. This change may mean less financial aid for those families with additional income from a same-sex spouse and more financial aid for families in which the same-sex spouse has other dependents.

In order to qualify for need-based financial aid, students must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used to determine financial-aid eligibility. Last April, prior to the DOMA ruling, the U.S. Department of Education announced plans to revise the FAFSA beginning in 2014 in recognition of the growing number of families formed by same-sex couples. The gender-specific terms “mother” and “father” will be replaced with the gender-neutral term “parent,” and dependent students will have the option of describing their parents’ marital status as "unmarried and both parents living together."

The majority of federal financial aid for dental students comes from Federal Unsubsidized Stafford and Grad PLUS Loans, neither of which is based on financial need. However, institutions with any campus-based financial aid (e.g., grants, scholarships, loans) that is based on financial need may want to revisit their awarding policies in light of this action.

At the time of the announcement, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "These changes will allow us to more precisely calculate federal student aid eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute and ensure taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need, as well as provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."

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