New Rule Gives Maximum Pell Grants to Children of Fallen Service Members

Combat boots decorated and displayed at Annual Fallen Hero Run
More than 25 combat boots were decorated and displayed at the 11th Annual Fallen Hero Run on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. The boot display is designed to recognize the men and women who lost their lives on and since 9/11. (U.S. Army photo by Jennifer James)

A new rule takes effect July 1 that expands higher education benefits to more children of fallen service members, while also raising the age limit to receive the aid and exempting it from a separate law that cost prior recipients hundreds of dollars a year.

The Education Department is implementing the FAFSA Simplification Act, signed into law in 2021. The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which students must fill out each year to receive the assistance. While some schools have their own internal deadlines, the Education Department's deadline for the FAFSA is June 30.

The new law includes a "special rule" that kicks in with the new academic year: The department will no longer award Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants to the children of parents who died as a result of their service in those wars.

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Instead, it will implement new eligibility requirements for the children of certain fallen service members to receive the maximum possible Federal Pell Grant regardless of their family's ability to pay for school.

The maximum Pell Grant for the 2024-2025 school year is $7,395. To receive the maximum award under the special rule:

  • A student's parent must have died "in the line of duty while serving on active duty" on or after Sept. 11, 2001. This new requirement doesn't tie the parent's service to the wars. Previously, students received grants if their parent died "as a result of performing military service in Iraq or Afghanistan" after 9/11.
  • A student must be under age 33, a nine-year extension. For Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, the upper age limit was 24.

Normally, the value of a student's Pell Grant depends on circumstances that might include their family size and parents' income, among other factors that contribute to each individual's Student Aid Index score. However, the children of service members who died in the line of duty, while on active duty, since 9/11 can get the maximum.

Because the money will now go out in the form of Pell Grants instead of Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, that administrative change will save students hundreds of dollars.

Like the Pell Grants under the new special rule, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants also equaled the maximum Pell Grant in a given year. But the recipients of Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants didn't get all that money.

Their grants were instead subject to a percentage reduction under the Budget Control Act of 2011, also known as "sequestration." Pell Grants, on the other hand, are exempt from that law. In the 2023-2024 school year, the sequester reduction of 5.7% cost recipients of Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants $421.51 out of their $7,395 award.

The new eligibility requirements give benefits to more students whose parents died on active duty by removing the requirement of service in the wars, but the door is closing on another group that briefly qualified.

During the 2023-2024 school year, the PACT Act rendered some children of deceased service members eligible for Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants because those deaths were newly presumed to be "as a result" of their service, meeting the old requirement.

Students who applied and received at least one disbursement under the previous requirements will have their eligibility grandfathered in under the new special rule, but those who were eligible thanks to the PACT Act but did not apply won't receive the benefit.

Related: Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant (Pell Grant Special Rule)

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