Publication Date: March 29, 2023
DCL ID GEN-23-05
Subject: Eligibility of Confined or Incarcerated Individuals to Receive Pell Grants
Summary: This letter provides guidance to institutions regarding the requirements for confined or incarcerated individuals to receive Federal Pell Grants on or after July 1, 2023.
The FAFSA Simplification Act (the Act), signed into law in December 2020, restored Pell Grant eligibility to confined or incarcerated individuals for the first time since 1994. The new law requires a “confined or incarcerated individual” (see definitions section) to enroll in an eligible prison education program (PEP) in order to access a Federal Pell Grant. On October 28, 2022, the Department of Education (Department) published a final rule in the Federal Register (87 FR 65426) to implement the requirements in the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA) for eligible PEPs. This final rule will go into effect on July 1, 2023.
Purpose of This Guidance
This Dear Colleague Letter summarizes the requirements to restore Pell Grant eligibility to confined or incarcerated individuals in Federal or State correctional facilities, and updates information regarding Pell Grant eligibility requirements for confined or incarcerated individuals in local facilities. It summarizes applicable regulations for postsecondary institutions offering PEPs and the steps required to develop and implement such programs so that confined or incarcerated individuals may gain access to Pell Grant funds. It also describes the responsibilities of schools, accrediting agencies, and oversight entities regarding PEPs.
What the FAFSA Simplification Act Does
The Act adds new HEA section 483(t)(3), which requires confined or incarcerated individuals who otherwise meet Pell Grant eligibility requirements to be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible PEP (Note: the law does not require a school to make changes to existing postsecondary educational programs in correctional facilities unless the school seeks to make those programs eligible for Pell Grant funds). As summarized further below, the Act made several other significant changes that directly or indirectly affect the eligibility of confined or incarcerated individuals for student assistance under title IV of the HEA.
Effective July 1, 2023, the Act also removes the prohibition in HEA section 401(b)(6) that prevented institutions from awarding Federal Pell Grants to any individual who is not incarcerated in any Federal or State correctional facility but is subject to an involuntary civil commitment upon completion of a period of incarceration for a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense. As of July 1, 2023, the implementation date of the Act, these individuals are not considered to be confined or incarcerated and are not required to enroll in a PEP to receive title IV aid.