Students and researchers at the University of Connecticut are facing the financial and bureaucratic challenges presented by the recent shutdown of the federal government over the past several weeks.
Although previously funded loans and grants are still in place and continued to operate through the shutdown, students applying for financial aid and research grant applicants were forced to wait for the government to reopen until they could continue their processes, according to UConn’s financial aid and research departments.
After a 35-day stalemate between President Trump and the Democrats in Congress over funding a southern border wall, the two sides came to an agreement on Friday to fund the government temporarily for three weeks so that they can ratify a budget for the federal government.
Students who were asked for further documentation from furloughed departments, such as the Internal Revenue System, to receive federal aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) were forced to pause their applications during the shutdown, according to Monica Kast of USA Today.
“However,” writes Kast, “the part of the IRS that allows them to access additional documents has been shut down.”
Megan Walter of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said in a statement, “the partial government shutdown may… cause issues for the processing of [award year] 2018-19 and 2019-20 FAFSAs that require certain database matches.”
Many government agencies are utilized by FAFSA in order to gather important influencing factors into an individual student’s aid package. Among them are the Department of Homeland Security, which “has a FAFSA database match to verify eligible non-citizen status,” and the Department of Justice, which “has a database match to identify applicants who are ineligible to receive Title IV funds due to certain drug convictions.”
Carrie Fernandez, the associate director of Compliance and Quality Assurance for the Office of Federal Aid Services at UConn, said the office advised students whose FAFSA applications were delayed because of the shutdown.
“The IRS Get Transcript Online tool was unavailable for a number of weeks,” Fernandez said. “This site may be needed for students whose FAFSA was selected for the verification process. Our office contacted students directly impacted by this and advised them of alternative methods to provide the required documentation to our office.”
Fernandez also noted that male students between the ages of 18 and 25 who filed for aid were given an error code, as they are required to register for Selective Service.
“During the shutdown, Selective Service was unable to make these matches and may have resulted in error messages on students’ FAFSAs,” Fernandez said. “These applications will be reprocessed systematically to remove the error message and students do not need to take any action.”
Fernandez concluded that the shutdown will not continue to affect student aid applicants now that the government has reopened.
“Overall, students were still able to complete their FAFSA, receive financial aid funds, and contact lenders during the partial shutdown,” Fernandez said.
Many research grant applicants at UConn were also in limbo during the shutdown, as the application systems for many non-essential federal departments were inaccessible.
Jennifer Johnson of the Office of the Vice President of Research at UConn (OVPR) said in a statement, “Agencies that are impacted by the partial shutdown include the National Science Foundation, Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation, Department of State, Department of Justice and NASA.”
OVPR advised research grant applicants to finalize their proposals and prepare for submission, regardless of the deadline.