By: Joseph Oliveri
The longest government shutdown in American history ended on Friday, January 25th, and several government offices, and institutions are still managing the aftermath. Furloughed workers are still anticipating backpay, national parks require rigorous maintenance, and experts say the economic ramifications are not going to disappear either.
Despite a unanimous Senate vote to keep the government open, the shutdown was incurred on December 22nd, when Congress and President Donald Trump reached an impasse in negotiations for an appropriations bill that did not include $5.7 billion for the border wall. Nine state departments and 800,000 employees were affected.
Friday, February 15th was the deadline for Congress to complete legislation that includes provisions for the border wall and have it signed by the president. As a state of emergency goes into effect, it is important to understand how offices and funds impact universities when a shutdown occurs.
In January, the Department of Education suggested that federal workers could defer or forbear outstanding loans, but warned against the interest that could be accrued in doing so. By the final week of January, Connecticut joined states like New York and Nevada in postponing payment deadlines for students who are federal workers or whose family’s income has been affected.
Melissa Stephens, Director of Financial Aid and Student Employment, said that WCSU did so by establishing an early promissory note for any students and families outlining the “promise to pay eventually.” Stephens also said that direct funding to WCSU was not affected.
“Primary funding comes from the state for our institutions,” Stephens added that Financial Aid did have to grapple with certain students’ aid applications.
“One of the things that happened during this shutdown was that when a student applied for financial aid, typically, there are certain matches that are done. There’s a match for your name, date of birth, with the Social Security Administration,” Stephens explained.
These “matches” include links between the personal information of students with specific application statuses to respective federal departments when electronic applications for aid are submitted. For example, veterans’ information is matched with the Veterans’ Affairs, and citizenship status is matched with records at the Department of Homeland Security.
“Those matches were not taking place,” Stephens explained. “There were instances where students were flagged. That in it of itself added an administrative burden on us in that it kind of put the student in limbo.”
Stephens also added that some families forwent making payments amidst the possibility that the Internal Revenue Service might delay tax refunds. The U.S. Treasury has denied this will happen.
“People were anticipating they wouldn’t get their refunds in time,” she said, adding that that issue had not arisen during past shutdowns.
Stephens said the best option for students who might be affected during a shutdown is to be aware of the resources and services the Financial Aid office offers.
“If there is something you are personally being affected by [during] the shutdown, we may or may not be aware of your personal or individual circumstances and it’s really important that students know that we are here,” she said.