Tester Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Lower Costs for Montana Family Farmers

by Colter Brown

Continuing his efforts to lower costs for Montanans and bolster education opportunities for rural communities, U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced bipartisan legislation to make sure farm families aren’t paying higher costs to send their kids to college. 

“As a third-generation farmer, I know firsthand that one-sizes-fits-all policies from Washington don’t work for Montana’s family farmers, ranchers, and small businesses,” said Tester. “That’s why I’m teaming up with Republicans and Democrats to make sure Montana’s family farmers and ranchers don’t have to pay a higher price to send their kids to college. This bipartisan bill will pave the way for young Montana leaders to succeed well into the future while ensuring our family farmers can continue to feed the world.”

“Without this family farm and small business exemption, I would have been forced to put our family farm at financial risk to pay the tuition for my daughters’ higher education,” said Walt Schweitzer, President of the Montana Farmers Union. “Thanks to Tester’s bill to reinstate the exemption, Montana farmers, ranchers, and small business owners won’t have to choose between saving their business or making sure their kids get the education they need to pursue the careers of their dreams.”

“Changes that are set to go into effect later this year to the FAFSA program could devastate many Montana business families, including agriculture. Farms, ranches and small businesses are incredibly capital intensive – most profits are re-invested into our business so there is very little cash left over to fund higher education without some form of guaranteed loan program. My husband and I have three kids who sought an education after high school. We’ve used the student loan program to help fund those pursuits. Without that option, college would never have been in their future. We thank Senator Tester for his sponsorship of the Family Farm and Small Business Exemption Act and applaud his efforts to protect educational opportunities for future Montana students,” said Cyndi Johnson, President of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation.

As the Senate’s only working farmer, Tester has long been Montana’s leading champion for family farmers and ranchers. 

Tester’s “Family Farm and Small Business Exemption Act” would restore the exemptions for family farm land and small businesses from being declared as an asset on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, saving the children of farmers and small business owners from being denied sufficient aid in the application and financial aid calculation.

Farm families are traditionally asset rich, but cash poor. A report prepared by Iowa College Aid found that under the previous expected family contribution (EFC) a family with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 and a farm worth $1 million would be expected to contribute $7,626 annually for college. But under the new federal financial aid formula that will launch later this year, that same family would be expected to contribute $41,056. This would drastically impact availability of loans and ultimately a student’s decision on where they can afford to go to college.

Tester has been a consistent voice for bolstering education access for rural communities. As the Senate Co-Chair of the Congressional TRIO Caucus, Tester has secured more than $4 million in TRIO Student Support Services funding for 14 Montana colleges and universities to increase college retention and graduation rates for low-income Montanans.

Tester was joined on the bill by Senators Ernst (R-Iowa), Grassley (R-Iowa), Lummis (R-Wyo.), Moran (R-Kans.), Ricketts (R-Neb.), and Braun (R-Ind.).


Sen. Jon Tester

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