USDA Rectifies Exclusion of Specialty Crops From Coronavirus Relief

Last July, the USDA announced that more than 40 specialty crops previously excluded from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), will become qualified. Finally, on August 11, the USDA released a complete list of more than 40 specialty farm commodities and has given advice that the department’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is currently accepting applications up to September 11, 2020.

 

Specialty crop farmers whose CFAP applications were denied, have to file new applications. Crop producers who qualified to receive CFAP financial assistance based on qualified conditions , but seeking to acquire funding for specialty crops that have become eligible, do not have to file a new application. They only need to get in touch with their local FSA and request for the amendment of their application.

A complete list is available at the USDA’s FSA website, to which some examples of the specialty crops added include but are not limited to: alfalfa sprouts, almonds, artichokes, anise, apples, cilantro, collards, coriander, garlic, grapefruit, eggplant, guava, greens, dandelion, leeks, lemon, leeks, lettuce, onions and more.

Whereas before, the USDA approved CFAP applications for specialty crops only if the need for relief is due to the following:

The specialty crops had suffered a 5% or more decline in price, from mid-January to mid-April, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although applications based on this reason will still be considered, specialty crop producers may be requested to present bills of sale as proofs in support of such claims.

Specialty crop producers who suffered losses due to spoiled shipment after the pandemic had closed down their marketing channel. However, producers may be requested to submit documentation as proof of non-payment or obtain from the intended buyer a written explanation for the non-payment.

Specialty crop that were already for shipments but failed to leave the farms, or remained unharvested and unsold for lack of marketing channel, as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns. However, the USDA said may request supporting documentations when assessing substantial claims on a cases-by-case basis.

What are Specialty Crops?

The oversight in granting direct payment was mainly due to the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 of the Farm Bill. to which the legal definition of specialty crops refers to “Fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, horticulture, floriculture, and nursery crops.

To be considered as specialty crops, the produce must have been cultivated, managed and used by individuals for purposes of producing food supplements, non-lab medicines and for aesthetic gratification or enhancement. When used as ingredients of processed products, the special substance must constitute more than 50% of the specialty crop in terms of weight without its added water content.

Part of the oversight was that majority of the specially crops are currently being cultivated, managed and sold by young Americans who became first generation farmers, as well as farmers of color. As a result, many were automatically excluded by the CFAP system.

Nonetheless, the matter was brought to the attention of the USDA by The National Young Farmers Coalition, which estimated that about three-quarters of the their members had also experienced lost sales after the COVID-19 measures resulted to closures of restaurants, specialty shops and farmers markets.

Coronavirus Forbearance of Student Loans

The U.S. Dept. of Education recently published information about student loan forbearance in response to the impact of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The Coronavirus and Forbearance is in connection with the Congress-approved CARES Act, signed into law by president Donald Trump last March 27, 2020 The law includes broad relief for borrowers who have been granted federal student loans. The CARES Act has automatically placed student borrowings under administrative forbearance, which means students and/or parents are allowed to temporarily stop making monthly payments on educational loans, up to September 30, 2020.

 

Although the CARES Act was enacted March 27, 2020, the date of effectivity for the suspension of payments was made retroactive from March 13, 2020.

Other Questions Raised in Connection with Student Loans and Financial Aid

Some students have put forward questions about the possibility of increasing the financial aid received, after their parents lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

In response to such queries, the U.S. Education Department recommends communicating with the financial aid office of the school. The department gives assurance that there are flexibility measures in place to enable students to stay in school and finish their course.

Generally, the recommendation is for students and/or parents to get in touch with schools via their website and inquire about the coronavirus-related guidance outlined for students, particularly with regard to student financial loans granted by private financial institutions.Under the forbearance scheme, students who will continue payment of their loans amid the health crisis, will not pay interest due on the loan.

The Education Department stated that although most schools transitioned to conducting classes through online systems, many continue to stay open in order to provide students not only answers to their questions but also assistance.

The FUTURE Act and the Differences It Will Make to the 2020 Financial Aid Onward

The FUTURE Act or the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act is a bipartisan bill proposed and approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and subsequently ratified as law by president Donald Trump in December 19, 2019.

The new law, permanently provides the Education Department, $255 million in annual mandatory funding for Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), which previously was made available annually for only up to two years.

Starting 2020, the permanent MSI funding denotes that related institutions will receive a continuing stream of financial aid to award to undergraduates taking up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.

The Future Act Also Simplifies the FAFSA

Corollary to the approval of the permanent MSI financial aid funding, the FUTURE Act also allows direct data sharing between the Education Department (ED) and the Internal Revenue Service.

The data-sharing system intends to streamline and simplify the processing of financial aid application or FAFSA. It replaced the previous system in which student-applicants or their parents have to retrieve their tax information from the IRS, and then include such information in the FAFSA.

The FAFSA simplification, through the data-sharing system suggests that verification of tax return information will be undertaken by authorized ED officials, as they will have access to tax information data shared by the IRS. The authorized ED official will then use the accessed data in determining the eligibility of the applicant for the amount applied for as Federal student financial aid.

Since the existing Internal Revenue Code (IRC) does not permit the IRS to share taxpayer information with the ED, the FUTURE Act, also includes an amendment to section 6103(l) of the IRC.

The amendment will have the IRS and the ED use a Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a means of sharing and accessing certain IRS tax information.

Use of the Data Retrieval Tool

The allowable information available and accessible via the DRT will include the applicant’s or parent-applicant’s taxpayer filing status, indicating whether the taxpayer concerned had filed a tax return; and whether the applicant filed a lettered tax schedule.

The data-sharing approach and the DRT also aim to improve the accuracy of information related to the payment of federal student aid programs. Under normal circumstances, it presumably removes the risks of fraud related to income-driven repayment plans applicable to self-certified income; as well as reduces the occurrences of improper student debt payments.

In light of the improved accuracy that the IRS-ED data sharing system will bring to the Federal financial aid programs, Senate leaders are confident that the federal government can pay for permanent MSI funding; using as funding resource, the I2.8 billion savings estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

FAFSA Filing Season is Now Open – The Importance of Filing as Early as Possible

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA filing season for the 2020-2021 school year, opened last October 01, 2019. Those intending to apply for financial aid to pay for college education should complete and submit their
FAFSA as early as possible.

Although the FAFSA filing cycle goes on for a period of 18 months from the October 01 starting date, completing an application sooner than the June 30, 2019 deadline is the best way to increase one’s chances of securing financial assistance.

First off, it should be clear that financial aid is college education money that does not have to be repaid. Although nearly all FAFSA applicants qualify for some form of financial help, most need-based aid and grants are awarded by states on a first-come-first-serve basis.

According to a recent report from Sallie Mae (SML Corp.), the private lending company that handles loans availed by college students, around eight (8) in every ten (10) American families seek for financial aid through scholarships and grants. Yet more than half of those families were constrained to take out student loans. This suggests that most need-based applicants had missed out on free financial aid offered by the federal government, by the state and/ or by different private sectors.

It is also important to know every state reserves the right to set a deadline that may be earlier than the federally prescribed end of the 18-month FAFSA season.

FAFSA State Deadlines for School Year 2020 – 2021

In some states like Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico,Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, seekers of college education financial aid must first check with their state’s Federal Student Aid Administrator, as the deadline may be dependent on some other documents required by the state government.

Other states give advice for applicants to submit as early as possible after October 01, because the available financial grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until depleted. The list includes Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington.

Some U.S. regions specifically set a FAFSA deadline for priority considerations. This denotes that those who submitted after the deadline and after the priority applicants have been served, can still apply until the end of the FAFSA season. States that maintain deadlines for priority listing include Connecticut, District of Columbia, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Texas

States with Specific FAFSA Deadlines:

California — March 02, 2020 for most state financial aid programs:

Delaware — April 15, 2020, by midnight CT.

Florida — May 15, 2020 (date processed).

Iowa — July 1, 2020, by midnight CT.

Louisiana — July 1, 2021 (recommended).

Maine – May 1, 2020, by midnight CT.

Maryland – March 1, 2020, by midnight CT.

Michigan – March 1, 2020, by midnight CT.

Minnesota – 30 days after term starts, by midnight CT.

Mississippi – June 1, 2020, by midnight CT.

New Jersey – April 15, 2020, by midnight CT

New York – June 30, 2021, by midnight CT. Additional forms might be required.

Ohio – Oct. 1, 2020, by midnight CT.

Pennsylvania – Aug. 1, 2020, by midnight CT

Tennessee – Feb. 1, 2020.

West Virginia – March 1, 2020.

Senior Citizens Going Back to College, Consider Grants for Non-Traditional Students

About a decade ago, going back to college was a popular feature of senior citizen retirement plans. In 2007, the National Center for Education Statistics had tracked a steady increase in the number of older adults ranging in ages between 50 and 64, who went back to higher educational institutions to pursue a degree. About 625,000 seniors went back to college in 2007, which peaked to as many as 8.9 million by the year 2010.

However, the years thereafter saw the numbers started going on a continuous decline.

Presumably, the effects of the 2008-2009 Great Recession took a toll on the economic resources of older adults; making it impossible for the next wave of retirement-eligible seniors to include going back to college as a future plan.

Due to this, higher education authorities saw the need to focus on the needs of older college students. In the Hechinger Report published by a non-profit news organization that gives attention to inequality in education, Mark Kantrowitz, SVP and publisher of Edvisors.com said

”Most older adults assume that just because they are no longer 17 years old, or are not working, they do not qualify for financial aid,”

Financial Aid Available to Older Adults Seeking to Continue and Complete Higher Education

Senior citizens planning to go back to college should know that there are several financial aid packages available to them. Be it federal, state, or private grants, older adults should explore financial aid under the non-traditional students category.

Federal Grants – Information about federal grants can be accessed by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the initial step to determining the federal grant that best suits one’s financial need.

State GrantsAll state governments receive federal funding in the form of block grants, or grant-in-aid in specific amounts. State and local authorities allocate them as grants for various programs; including providing support to both traditional and non-traditional students needing financial assistance.

Private Grants – Public and private colleges and universities are likewise important sources of financial aid available to older adults. Most of which are endowments coming from private individuals or foundations. Seniors can find out about current non-traditional educational grants by inquiring from the institution’s Financial Aid office.

Cashing Out the Equity Value of an Owned-Property as an Additional Source of Funding

Although educational grants can help older adults pay for college tuition, pursuing a degree gives rise to other expenses that could eat away money allotted for basic needs.

One way by which senior citizens can augment their economic resources is by cashing in on the value of their property. This can be done by taking out a loan against an owned-home, but without being burdened with monthly payments to settle the obligation.

An equity release though is available to older adults aged 55 or above who currently live in an owned-home. That is because the financing scheme works on the principle that a real estate usually appreciates in value.

The total amount due as payment for the cash borrowed can be deferred upon the sale of the property held as collateral. Selling transpires once the senior borrower passes away; or has entered an assisted living facility.

However senior citizens should take note of the costs they have to shoulder before they can close an equity release deal. As the expenditures include various fees such as legal, valuation, processing, consultation and/or completion fees, as well as building insurance, it would be best to get a hold of an equity release calculator cost determinator, before agreeing to a lender’s offer.

Understanding the Importance of GPA: Why It Can Impact Your Financial Aid

GPA, which stands for for Grade Point Average is a standard method of measuring the academic achievement of a student in the U.S. for both secondary and college levels.

A satisfactory GPA in addition to other requirements asked for by an educational institution, presents a gauge of satisfactory academic performance. It is an important basis not only for for college admission but also in seeking financial aid to complete a course in higher education.

 

 

This denotes that a student who was able to secure financial assistance must strive to maintain a GPA considered as acceptable by institutions involved in awarding financial support. Otherwise, failure to maintain a GPA at the required satisfactory level can result to losing the financial support counted on as means of completing a college degree or course.

Ways to Avoid Losing College Financial Aid as a Result of Unsatisfactory GPA

The moment a student enrolls in college or university that facilitated the granting of a financial aid, it is important for that student to familiarize him or herself with the standards required by the institution. That is because standards of satisfactory progress depends on the policies outlined by the college or university in which a student is enrolled.

Another important matter to keep in mind is that the calculation of a student’s GPA at high school level, is different at college level. The A to F grading system, when given an equivalent score using a 4-point scale still depends on the number of units represented by each course.

When speaking of number of units, also known as course credits, it refers to the number of hours of lecture and homework devoted by a student every week to complete a subject during a school year or semester.

Number of units is usually three in every secondary level course. Yet this is not always the case in college courses, because course credits or number of units could vary even by a fraction. Variations in number of units or course credits therefore can affect a GPA that a student presumed as already satisfactory.

Knowing how to calculate one’s GPA can help in raising one’s awareness of whether he or she is on track, or falling below the standard required by the educational institution.

 

The most important action that can help a student maintain satisfactory academic progress is to communicate to financial aid officers, advisers and professors any problems encountered in relation to one’s academic endeavours.

As a rule, colleges and universities notify students if it seems they are at risk of failing to meet the satisfactory academic progress required by the school. That way, the students will have time to seek consultations on out-of-the ordinary problems that may be preventing a student from maintaining satisfactory academic performance that is necessary in keeping one’s financial aid intact.

Student Financial Aid : A Solution to Higher Education When Chosen Wisely

Receiving student financial aid is an important solution to problems faced by prospective college or university students. Yet more often than not, student loans also pose as additional stressors once financially indebted students actually enter life on campus. While they go through feelings of desolation by being away from home and family, students are also faced with difficulties in coping with new situations and with different kinds of people, and most of all, with tougher academic requirements.

Dr. Victor Schwartz of The Jed Foundation, a non-profit organization formed to provide protection and emotional health support to adolescents and young adults, opines that financial struggles affect different aspects of a student’s life on campus. Simple things such as food availability and housing security may be provided with solutions by taking on multiple jobs. As they struggle to balance those with academics, they are not getting enough rest or sleep. All of which leads to physical stress and mental anxiety.

Currently, several Democratic presidential candidates are promising education reforms regarding free college tuition, and of eliminating student debts altogether. In the meantime, since they are still political promises that may or may not be fulfilled, university and college students have to face the reality that their struggles continue.

Students Likely to be Hit with Mental Health Problems

Apparently, students coming from low income families who view college education as a way of improving their status in life are the most affected. Although student financial loans give them a chance to fulfill their aspirations, visions about a better future becomes blurred once the toll of financial and academic struggles affect their mental well being. After all, how they fare with their higher learning will affect their chances of landing higher-paying jobs once they complete their college education.

Often times, students who rely on a combination of academic scholarships and student loans become vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and depression. Not a few are aware that they are already experiencing mental health problems that require professional counselling. As they try to cope with both academic and financial struggles on their own, their anxiety about the future worsens, making them doubt altogether whether or not the future will be worth all the trouble they are currently going through.

Choosing the Right Educational Institution by Looking Into Those that Provide Sufficient and Proper Student Support Services

The Jed Foundation recommends that one way of alleviating and avoiding anxiety over student financial aid loans, is to choose from educational institutions wisely. The foundation forewarns that for-profit colleges are likely to have fewer mental health services to offer as support, when compared to private schools or colleges that are part of a large system that receives funding support.

Still, such may not always be the case. University Primetime, a popular source of higher education news gathered statistical data in analyzing the rising rates of depression in campuses. Based on their statistical analysis and survey, college news website released a list of educational institutions in which cases of depression among students are high.

The published list named the University of California, Berkeley, New York University, Cornell University, Duke University and the Pennsylvania State University, as the top five higher education institutions in which mental health issues are becoming prevalent. A problem that most universities and colleges must address by improving the mental health services made available to students.

FAFSA4caster : Estimating Your Financial Aid Need and Eligibility

The FAFSA4caster is an online tool that high school students can use when anticipating their need for financial assistance upon entering college.

It is an online calculator provided by the Federal Student Aid Office to students such as those in junior or mid school level, and to parents who are not sure if they have the means to send their child to college. The FAFSA4caster is the next best tool to use to get a close enough estimate of a student’s eligibility for financial aid.

Knowing that the government calculates financial need by deducting the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the Cost of Attendance (COA) is a good start. However, having a near accurate estimation of the inputs to use for the formula, is better than making a wild guesstimate. Through the FAFSA4caster tool, an anticipating high school student or parent can obtain better estimates of the COA and EFC.

How does the FAFSA4caster Work?

The FAFSA4caster displays a worksheet that must be filled with the Cost of Attendance (COA), such as tuition fees, other educational expenses and living costs of the student’s chosen school. To get the information you need, go to the College Scorecard page of the U.S. DepEd.

A household’s potential financial contribution, on the other hand, can be estimated by providing answers to the FAFSA4caster questionnaire that determines financial capability of a potential college student. Here, it is important that all questions will be given answers even if based on near-enough guesses or estimates. Be ready with some personal records as some questions need answers based on personal documents such as bank statements or federal tax returns.

After which, the tool will display several sources of college funds, whilst indicating eligibility for federal financial aid like Pell Grant, Direct Subsidized or Direct Unsubsidized Loan, or Federal Work-Study program. If there are any state aid or college financial assistance that a student or parent considers as potential source of college funding, fill in the appropriate worksheet fields with the amounts.

Hitting the “Calculate” button will summarize the total anticipated College Attendance Cost, and the total potential financial aid. The resulting difference between those 2 sums will be Net Cost of Attending College. The Worksheet will also generate the Expected Family Contribution.

Since the goal is to determine a student’s financial need, apply the amounts generated by the FAFSA4caster as Total Cost of Attendance (COA) and Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for the government formula: COA – EFC = Student’s Financial Aid Need.

Know the Basic Eligibility Criteria When Applying for a US Dep Ed Financial Student Aid via FAFSA

When making plans to apply for federal student aid, the first thing to learn about is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or better known as FAFSA. This is a free form provided online by the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the different types of federal student aid offered by the government.

Create an FSA ID to Access the FAFSA

An applicant must first register with the Federal Student Aid (FSA) U.S DepEd website to create a password-protected user account. The FSA ID serves as a single signing-in identification when accessing the FAFSA document and other financial aid pages of the U.S. DepEd customer-facing website. Once an FSA ID account has been created, an applicant can now access and fill up the FAFSA form.

Basic Eligibility Requirements to Qualify for Financial Student Aid

In evaluating a FAFSA, the FSA US DepEd will look into the following information to determine if an applicant is eligible to receive Financial Student Aid.

Financial Need

A demonstration of financial need is necessary, when applying for a Direct Subsidized Loan that provides financial assistance to undergraduate students seeking to enroll in a college or career institution. Here, a student must specify the significant reason why his or her family cannot afford to pay for college or career education. Examples of reason include loss of a parent, or loss of employment either by the student or by the breadwinner of the family.

To further demonstrate one’s financial incapacity, statements must include descriptions of the student’s job or of a parent’s employment, about schooling of other siblings, and discussion of any unexpected expenses of the family. All of which will make clear the direct impact of the cost of higher learning on the family’s overall income. Take note not to make false statements because any that has been verified as falsehood is punishable.

U.S. Citizenship or Eligibility as Non-Citizen Residing in the U.S.

A birth certificate showing that the applicant is a natural born U.S. citizen suffices as proof of U.S. citizenship.

On the other, a non-citizen may be documented by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS, by way of a “green card” such as a Resident Card, Resident Alien Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card. Other non-citizen types like refugees, asylum seekers or other legally recognized entrants will have either an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94), or a T-Visa, and a certification letter issued to them by the USCIS as proof of approved entry.

Other Basic Requirements

* Valid Social Security Card/Number (not applicable to nationals of Marshall Islands, Micronesia, or Palau).

* High school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) certificate;

* Male applicants aged 18 to 25 must be registered with Selective Service;

* Has enrolled or already accepted as enrollee for an eligible degree or certificate program and must be enrolled at least half-time as a regular student.

* Has maintained satisfactory academic performance in college or career institute.

* Must be able to certify the portion of the FAFSA stating that he or she (student) is not in default of any federal student loan or has no financial obligation under the federal student grant.

Needless to say, inability to satisfy or complete any of the basic eligibility requirements stalls the processing of an application for financial student aid at the very onset.