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Federal college aid system needs reworking

Children taken from their homes because drug-addled parents either cannot care for them or are threats to their safety face plenty of challenges. Being told they cannot receive state or federal help to go to college should not be one of them.

West Virginia legislators were told a few days ago that the very status of many children makes that a problem.

State higher education Chancellor Sarah Tucker explained the situation, which involves the standard application for college financial help, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Part of the FAFSA form requires that applicants provide information on parents’ incomes. They may not have access to parents’ W-2 tax forms to do that, Tucker noted.

And, of course, when children have been taken away from their mothers and fathers, parental income is not a factor. Parents so incapacitated by drugs or, more rarely, for other reasons are not going to provide higher education help for their children anyway.

Tucker added that for many such children, there are exemptions from the normal FAFSA rules. Included in that category are youngsters who have been adopted, are in the state foster care system, have children or have enlisted in the military.

But here in West Virginia, many children taken from their homes have been welcomed by family members, often grandparents or even great-grandparents. There are thousands of youngsters in that category who do not qualify for the normal FAFSA exemptions. The number could be as high as 40,000.

According to a published report, a bill in the West Virginia Legislature could help — to some extent. It is House Bill 4737, which in effect allows Mountain State students to apply for state financial aid even if they cannot fill out the FAFSA form.

Lawmakers should approved HB 4737. Gov. Jim Justice should sign it into law.

But that will be of only limited help to many of the affected children. Changes at the federal level are needed, too. West Virginia’s congressional delegation should see to that.

Many grandparents who have become surrogate moms and dads have trouble affording food and clothing for their new, second families. Higher education is out of the question. Young victims of neglect and abuse, whatever the cause, deserve better than that.

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