Shutdown creates headaches for students

As the partial government shutdown continues, the implications for community colleges and their students become increasingly problematic.

This year, the chronically late-to-be-enacted Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bill passed on time, and consequently those three key agencies continue to operate normally. Agencies funded by the continuing resolution that expired on Dec. 21 and are now shut down are the ones creating complications for community colleges. These agencies are funded by seven of the 12 appropriations bills and represent approximately one-quarter of the government.

A particular problem facing college students across the country applying for student aid is that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is not currently funded, cannot provide tax transcripts needed by many students to complete the application process. The U.S. Education Department has been asked to provide guidance that would allow schools to use signed copies of tax returns or a signed statement to verify non-filing rather than IRS-provided materials, but this has not been forthcoming, leaving impacted students at a standstill.

The process if further hampered by the inability to verify draft registration using the Selective Service database. The timing of this breakdown of the student aid system is unfortunate, given that many spring terms are just starting. Some community colleges are allowing students to temporarily defer tuition payments for the winter term (Editor’s note: see related story), but this is not a long-term solution, nor does it address the issue of living expenses.

Other affected programs

Other potential impacts of the partial shutdown include two key U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs — the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. While USDA itself is not being funded, program spending comes from the “mandatory” portion of the budget and is not supported through the appropriations process. Consequently, some state offices that deliver benefits have been able to administer the benefits using their own funds.

Adding to the problems are the agencies that provide grants directly to institutions but are currently shuttered. These include the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies. Technical assistance for current grants may be unavailable, and should the shutdown last much longer, timelines for future grant solicitations may change.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.