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Congresswoman McClellan sponsors bill to amend Virginia 529, allow for parking expenses

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The Accessible College Campus and Expanded Student Savings (ACCESS) Act was introduced today to improve post-second education affordability and reduce barriers to access.

U.S. Reps. Jennifer McClellan of Virginia and Linda Sánchez of California introduced The ACCESS Act, which would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code to allow 529 savings plans to be used for transportation and parking expenses related to the cost of attendance at eligible higher education institutions and apprenticeship programs.

“As the cost of post-secondary education continues to rise, we must do more to improve affordability and reduce barriers to access for prospective students,” McClellan said. “Prohibitive costs for transportation and parking pose an undue financial burden on students pursuing their education. My ACCESS Act will empower students to use their 529 Savings Plan to pay for parking and transportation costs and improve accessibility for everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status.”

According to Sanchez, students who commute to school have the added expense of public transportation and on-campus parking, which can make pursuing an education unaffordable.

“This simple change will help ease that burden and improve access to education. I want to thank Congresswoman McClellan for her leadership to help lower the cost of an education for more students,” Sanchez said.

Virginia529, the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN), the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), the Virginia College Advising Network (VCAN), the Council for Independent Colleges of Virginia (CICV), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and the College Savings Foundation (CSF) have endorsed the legislation.

“The ACCESS Act will provide a valuable opportunity for students to maximize the use of their 529 account to cover one of the most significant non-tuition barriers for commuter and working students: transportation. Recent studies have found that transportation costs can account for almost 20 percent of a student’s cost of college if the student lives off-campus. This is significant given that more than 60 percent of full-time students attending a public four-year college and more than 95 percent of community college students live off-campus. Opening up tax-advantaged 529 accounts to cover these expenses will be a significant boost to many families and savers,” said Mary Morris, Chief Executive Officer of Virginia529 and Chair of the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN).

David Doré, Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges, said he is grateful to McClellan for introduction of the bill.

“The Urban Institute has estimated that transportation costs are 10% of a community college student’s expense budget, and this legislation will connect students to resources and help them overcome barriers to success and completion.  Authorizing transportation expenses such as gas, car repairs, bus fare, and parking fees associated with commuting to class or an apprenticeship will be a valuable benefit for Virginia’s community college students, and will assist more students in achieving a life-changing credential or degree,” Doré said.

The Virginia College Access Network Board of Directors called the ability of the bill to cover transportation and parking expenses “remarkable.”

“This bill will alleviate a great deal of anxiety, stress and pressure experienced by many families located in Virginia. We look forward to working with you on the Accessible Campus Commuting and Expanded Student Savings Act and other postsecondary issues.” 

Debbie Allan, Virginia529’s Chief Engagement Officer, said SOAR Scholars meet milestones to earn scholarships for their 529 accounts.

“Unfortunately, many of our SOAR Scholars still face difficulty getting to school, making it harder to stay in school even with their scholarship account. The ACCESS Act would help these students by allowing them to use their scholarship dollars to not only pay for their tuition, books, and supplies, but also the costs associated with getting to school, like bus fare, parking, and gas. We are grateful to Congresswoman McClellan for her leadership in helping address this significant non-tuition barrier for our SOAR Scholars,” Allan said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.