Prolonged government shutdown minimally affects Office of Financial Aid

From midnight on Dec. 22, 2018 to Friday Jan. 25, the United States government was in a state of partial shutdown, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

As a result of the shutdown, the Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service and many other important government institutions that work with the Financial Aid Office were closed. 

Director of the Office of Financial Aid Susan Romano explained how the 35-day government shutdown affected her job. 

“The good news is, most things have been status quo, which is good,” Romano said. “Funding is still coming in, we’re still able to process applications; therefore, we’re able to process awards.”

According to an article published on Friday Jan. 25 by The Livingston County News, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed both the State University of New York and City University of New York systems to assist students with college-related expenses during the extensive government shutdown.

“When students complete a FAFSA there are certain checks that are done with other governmental agencies behind the scenes when a student does the free application for federal student aid,” Romano said. “So, there are certain checks that aren’t being done because some of those offices are closed.”

Cuomo spoke out about the matter in a news release in a statement on Jan. 22. 

“New York’s students are among those hit hardest by Washington’s inaction,” Cuomo said. “We will not stand idly by as the federal administration undermines students’ ability to achieve a higher education, and today’s action will help ensure furloughed federal workers and their families get the support they need during this precarious time.”

“A few of checks from federal departments were not happening while the government was closed,” Romano said. “But they told us once the government is up and running, now that it is now, those checks will happen and then they will push that information out to the schools.”

According to the Financial Aid Office, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security are involved in the checking process of financial aid to verify eligibility for non-citizens and to see if a candidate lost eligibility because of a drug conviction.

“Requesting tax transcripts online or by phone with the IRS was a problem,” Romano said. “People couldn’t get through to request those. Also, if a student is selected for federal verification, we had to ask for those transcripts to complete paperwork. Luckily, most of our students that were here in for the fall semester had already completed it.” 

The Department of Education announced on Jan. 9 that it would provide more flexible guidelines for institutions during the shutdown and allowed them to “accept additional documents for verification.” 

“[The shutdown] was affecting some new students that were coming in the spring semester or people that hadn’t finished up paperwork from the fall,” Romano said. “But, because of the shutdown, the government made modifications to the requirements, so now we can take a copy, a signed copy, of a tax return that a family may have in their own possession already.”

The Department of Education is among the agencies whose funding was approved last fall, according to an article published by Education Week on Jan. 6. 

“The funding we deal with is mandatory funding,” Romano said. “We’re not going to see any impact on funding. We’ve had no word of any reductions in awards.”