By KATHRYN OWCZARZAK
The longer the federal government shutdown continues, the stronger the effect on Pima Community College, according to Chancellor Lee Lambert.
“I think the impact of the shutdown will be felt in waves,” Lambert said Oct. 8.
“Federal aid to students, especially veterans, may be suspended,” he said. “These funds are essential for students to use for higher education. Veterans have earned these benefits, and if these funds are suspended I am worried for them and their futures.”
He also worries about state funding.
“State funding to community colleges may diminish because of the financial challenges the state is now facing because of the shutdown,” Lambert said.
All “non-essential” departments of the federal government closed Oct. 1 after the U.S. House and Senate couldn’t agree on a bill to fund operations.
Many federal agencies remained closed as negotiations continued, although Social Security checks were still being mailed and veterans’ hospitals stayed open.
National parks and monuments closed, as did a long list of federal agencies.
Furloughs impacted employees at agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, Veterans Affairs, Department of Education, Federal Drug Administration, Federal Housing Administration, NASA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Closures also affected IRS taxpayer services, passport agencies, unemployment programs, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Head Start and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
In anticipation of the shutdown, Lambert addressed PCC students and employees in an open letter posted to pima.edu on Oct 1.
“Based on what we know at this time, the college does not anticipate that a short-term shutdown will have a significant impact on our students or employees,” Lambert wrote.
“PCC will hold classes and offer services as it always does,” he said.
Lambert said financial aid should be largely unaffected, based on feedback from the Department of Education and the American Association of Community Colleges.
Pell Grants, the Direct Student Loan program, and Perkins Career and Technical Education funds would continue to be disbursed, he said.
The Department of Education furloughed 94 percent of its staff, which diminished the department’s ability to provide technical assistance and other services, Lambert noted. However, department websites and student loan service sites stayed open.
The shutdown could affect new financial aid applications. For instance, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is designed to “give priority to students with the highest need.” Because of the furlough, new applications were not being processed.
Lambert also assured PCC employees that paychecks would continue as normal.
A prolonged shutdown might affect some grant-funded programs, he said, but disbursements for existing programs were expected to continue.
PCC student Karma DeAndra, a mother of three who is studying for her teacher’s license re-certification, said she has not yet experienced any issues with the government shutdown.
“The effect on me has been minimal, if not non-existent,” DeAndra said. “I don’t get government aid in any way because I’m in that weird limbo between doing OK and wanting to do more, but not having the time or resources.”
PCC aerospace engineering student Juan Pablo Cordova Valenzuela said he worried about scientific research conducted at public universities being deemed “non-essential.”
“Most researchers in public universities and colleges are supported by the government,” he said. “I pay a lot of money for my schooling, and I think I will be affected by the shutdown in the way of no more federal funding for my research.”
Students and military personnel at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base experienced the shutdown’s impact on the military.
The base immediately furloughed 1,604 civilian employees and scaled back some services as a result of the shutdown. Although the remaining 1,782 civilian workers and all military personnel continued to perform their normal duties, they were told not to expect paychecks until the federal impasse was resolved.
Army veteran Steve Sinkovich was disappointed with the shutdown.
“The Congress, the Senate, the House, they placed an unreasonable burden upon the common man,” Sinkovich said. “For what? We’re paying for all of this in so many different ways and we’ll continue to pay for years.”
His advice?“Come on, Congress. Do something. Get together. Work it out. This is ridiculous.”