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FAFSA online tool to remain down until fall 2017

From Politico The online tool that helps students apply for federal financial aid will remain unavailable until later this year, the Education Department and Internal Revenue Service announced today. The agencies said in a statement that they are still working to add “extra security protections” to the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which millions of students use each year to help them automatically input their income information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The tool was suspended over concerns that identity thieves could use it to access student tax information. “While we are working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, students and families should plan for the tool to be offline until the start of the next FAFSA season,” the agencies said in a statement. The next FAFSA season begins on Oct. 1. The IRS said that it does not know how many taxpayers may have been “affected by the questionable use of the Data Retrieval Tool” or whether any fraudulent tax returns were filed as a result. The agency said it had identified instances where a “questionable” tax return was filed by someone who also accessed the data retrieval tool. The IRS is also “finalizing plans to notify affected taxpayers by mail about possible identity theft concerns,” the statement said. The decision by the Education Department and IRS to suspend the tool earlier this month without any warning has drawn the ire of members of Congress. The Republican and Democratic leadership of the congressional education committees, as well as the House Oversight Committee, have expressed concern about the shutdown and demanded more information. Two states, Texas and Indiana, have also extended state-level deadlines for financial aid as a result of the shutdown. "While this tool provides an important convenience for applicants, we cannot risk the safety of taxpayer data,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement. “Protecting taxpayer data has to be the highest priority, and we will continue working with FSA to bring this tool back in a safe and secure manner.” Federal student loan borrowers also use the tool to certify their income to participate in income-based repayment programs, which they must do each year. The Education Department said that while the tool is unavailable, borrowers should send their federal loan servicers paper copies of their tax returns, or other documentation of income. "We have heard from students, parents, and the financial aid community that applying for aid is harder without the DRT," said James W. Runcie, federal student aid chief operating officer. "We will do all we can to help students and families successfully submit applications while the tool is unavailable and remain committed to protecting applicants' personal information."