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Opinion

Government shutdown impedes student aid

By Patrick English '15

October 3, 2013

The government shutdown on Tuesday caused a nationwide feeling of uncertainty, which will undoubtedly have lasting effects on the United States’ economy and its citizens. Even in a short shutdown, citizens will see the impact in the closings of national parks and monuments, putting thousands of Americans out of work for the foreseeable future. But how will the shutdown affect the Hamilton community?

Overall, the expected short-term effect will be minimal, provided that the shutdown only lasts a few days. According to the Department of Education’s contingency plan, the government will continue servicing student aid and student loans. However, this is only true of student loans that are already established. With the government shutdown, the servicers and contractors will have to wait to be paid and no new contracts will be awarded. While this contingency plan could work for a week or two, student aid will eventually run out because the contractors cannot continue to work without receiving pay. This could have a negative effect on several students who are using government aid to pay for college.

Students are not the only ones receiving the damages of this shutdown. While Hamilton, as a private college, receives fewer federal funds than public universities, a government shutdown certainly complicates matters. Even private schools rely on federal funding to run programs for disadvantaged students and daily operations. If the shutdown continues for as short a period as a month, Hamilton students and administrators will have to make some tough decisions in regards to student aid at the College.

While the Department of Education does have a contingency plan, there is not much it can do without any funding from a shutdown government. The Department plans to grant leaves of absence to 90 percent of their employees to help pay for student aid and loans that have already been serviced. If the shutdown continues for at least  one week, the Department will call back up to six percent of these employees to perform “essential” functions, such as providing payments to grantees of student aid. Again, these employees cannot be paid until after the shutdown, which will surely discourage them from working.

With the government shutdown affecting many parts of the country beyond education, Congress will be working hard to make it as short as possible. However, the fact that the government has reached this point shows its failure to compromise and come up with solutions to its problems. In the days leading up to the shutdown, the House of Representatives submitted a number of similar proposals to avoid the shutdown, all of which included a delay of funding for the Affordable Care Act. The Senate rejected all of these bills, sending them back to the House without offering to negotiate the terms. On Tuesday, the House offered a conference to negotiate the terms, but was again voted down by the Senate.

These problems perpetuate a pattern of disunity for this Congress. Instead of talking, each side has stuck to their guns, with the Republicans making a last ditch attempt against the Affordable Care Act, while the Democrats are pushing more spending and funding for healthcare. This Congress’ failure to compromise on many issues does not bode well for the shutdown. While Democrats and Republicans avoided near shutdowns in previous years, both sides seem to have become more stubborn and partisan, meaning that the shutdown could continue for an extended period of time.

Unfortunately, current members of Congress seem more interested in sticking to their principles than avoiding a shutdown that affects all American citizens in a variety of ways. If both sides could have compromised, we would have avoided this problem altogether. Instead, Americans may face tough financial decisions as long as the government shutdown continues.

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