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NEW YORK CITY - The new FAFSA form was made available this past Dec. 31, following a two year waiting period since Congress initially asked for its simplification in 2020. In the week of its soft launch, users encountered several technical difficulties that prevented them from submitting IT. But although this updated version is meant to benefit students, does it do so equally?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, has been for many decades one of the main way for students in the United States to afford going to college. From work study to student loans and pell grants, FAFSA gives financial aid to students based on, among other things, their academic performance, family taxes and income.

The form has been notoriously difficult to fill out. Specific questions on the family's finances, coupled with overly technical terminology have been issues discussed time and time again in the federal government.

That is why, in 2020, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act, which represents a significant overhaul of the processes and systems used to award federal student aid starting with the 2024-25 award year.

Less questions and a tweaked formula that is expected to award more grants to students are some of the changes that the U.S. Department of Education debuted this past December. However, they don't come with possible impacts for Latino and other minority students seeking this aid.

Students typically have access to the coming year's form on Oct. 1. This year, after months-long delays, they were able to enter the portal Dec. 31. The delays are likely to affect students from low-income backgrounds and students of color the most.

Getting the FAFSA form submitted sooner rather than later is essential, because it's the first step in the process for any student to receive their financial aid offer from colleges and universities. Because the form was made available during winter break, students may have to wait to get back to school in January to get help from school counselors to complete the new application.

This creates a domino effect. Several states operate on a first-come, first-serve basis when it comes to financial allotment. Because forms will be filled in January, it is most likely that financial aid packages will not be given out until February at best, which may impact students' eligibility for some state financial aid programs, causing students to potentially miss out on state aid.

So far, states have not changed their deadline to submit the application. Despite the December launch, priority deadlines in Texas are still Jan. 15, in California March 2 and in Florida May 15. Schools have also not announced whether or not they will keep the traditional May 1 deadline for security deposit decisions.

This is of utmost importance for students who depend on financial aid to afford college, the majority of which are students of color and minority backgrounds.

At the same time, students with more than one child in college at the same time may qualify for less assistance. That's because the new form eliminated the "sibling discount," which granted students with siblings in college more financial support.

The change in aid eligibility for some families with multiple college students may be substantial, and oftentimes unexpected, particularly for students who are already enrolled in college and will see a change from their aid package for the upcoming school year.

"The price tag is about to go up a lot, and they don't even know it," Phillip Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College told The New York Times.

But regardless the rocky launch, more than 1 million students and families have filled out the new FAFSA, according to the Department of Education. However, it is still unclear on when schools will receive each applicant's information, and whether or not the spring decision timeline will be changed.

For more information on the FAFSA Simplification Act, click here.

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