FAFSA Shutout by the Shutdown

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Published January 23, 2019
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The Montclarion
Rebecca Serviss | The Montclarion

On the first day of October, thousands of college students around the country began scrambling and searching through their financial documents in order to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

In New Jersey, many students at Montclair State University have already completed their applications in the fall, but there are some who choose wait to complete it during winter break instead of balancing the stress of managing finances and midterms at the same time.

In most cases, waiting a few months is not too detrimental to the amount of aid a student gets, but this year, those who decided put their applications on the back burner will have to wait a little longer than usual for the stamp of approval.

FAFSA is managed by both the U.S. Department of Education and the IRS in Washington D.C. On the night of Dec. 21, many of those workers overseeing these applications were furloughed in lieu of a partial government shutdown, possibly leaving many students who are unsure of their application status helpless and concerned right before the holiday season.

Just like the thousands of workers who were furloughed, college students have become a new pawn paralyzed in Washington D.C.’s game.

The shutdown commenced after Congress failed to reach a compromise about funding President Donald Trump’s promised southern border wall. As a result, many FAFSA applications still waiting to be approved will be delayed until the government reopens, something that is frustrating and unjust to the thousands of college students who rely heavily on financial aid to pay for tuition.

Not all college students are affected by this issue, but those who are impacted are worried about how long they will have to wait for financial aid and the repercussions that come with the delay before the New Jersey priority deadline on Feb. 1. In some cases, students now have to question their plans for the upcoming semesters and possibly postpone their graduation dates.

The main fear is that the later these applications are approved, the less likely students receive the full estimated amount of aid they need because of the increasing number of outstanding applications on the stamping pile.

While the U.S. Department of Education’s budget was already in place before the shutdown, there is still not an unlimited amount of funding that goes toward federal financial aid for students. One factor that determines how much aid students receive is when they submit their applications. FAFSA runs on a first-come, first-served basis, therefore those who submit their applications when they are first available receive the best benefits.

Those who submitted their applications later and have not yet been approved are stuck waiting while more applications continue to pour in from across the country. From the students’ perspective, they have the same disadvantage as the government workers who have not received a paycheck since before Christmas.

There are ways that universities are helping to ease the stress of those who are in need of financial assistance, including Montclair State.

At Montclair State, the only issue present is that due to the shutdown, students and parents were unable to obtain their IRS transcripts used for verification. According to the Office of Financial Aid, the U.S. Department of Education is now allowing them to submit copies of federal tax returns as an alternative to those who do not have access to their other documents.

The campus community is very grateful for the assistance of both the Office of Financial Aid and the U.S. Department of Education for guiding them through this difficult process, but there are problems that need to be resolved in Congress to end the national financial crisis as a whole.

Many students believe that it is time for Washington D.C. to take responsibility for the days and money lost throughout these five weeks of unpaid arguing and put an end to the longest government shutdown in American history.

Innocent citizens, including college students who have been struggling to get access to federal financial aid, should never be used as pawns in anyone’s political chess game.

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