First published on the dailyemerald.com on January 26th. While the longest partial government shutdown affected federal workers across the country, including IRS workers and FBI agents, some functions at the University of Oregon were hindered as well.
Betsy Boyd, the University of Oregon associate vice president for federal affairs, said that while the government has been shut down a number of times in the past few decades, the latest shutdown was unique.
“There’s never been a shutdown like this one,” Boyd said. “Granted it is a partial government shutdown so it does not affect all parts of the federal government, but the length, the lack of urgency about resolving it, the uncertainty about a path forward, all of that makes it atypical in my experience.”
The shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, 2018 over funding for President Trump’s proposed border wall, ended last Friday when Trump signed a bill that would keep the government open until Feb. 15. According to the New York Times, Trump will keep negotiating with Congress for funding a border wall.
Boyd said the biggest impact of the shutdown on the university was the effect on individual students, like those whose family members didn’t receive paychecks.
“I remain concerned about students whose families may not have applied for financial aid because they’ve been government employees and may now be facing cash constraints,” she said. “I hope that students in that position are talking to financial aid or student affairs because there are folks that want to help them.”
Although there is a temporary reprieve, a few areas of the university have been impacted by the shutdown, and some impacts could have lingering effects.
Research proposals left waiting
About 80 percent of research funding granted to UO faculty comes from federal sources, according to the latest data from the Office of the Vice President for Research & Innovation.
While some agencies that fund UO research, like the Department of Education, remained open, others, like the National Science Foundation, were closed during the shutdown. This meant that researchers who proposed projects to those agencies during the shutdown had to wait to communicate with the agency and wait for their proposals to be reviewed, said Cassandra Moseley, senior associate vice president for Research and Innovation.
This delay becomes especially problematic for researchers when their proposals are time-sensitive. Moseley gave an example of Forest Service efforts:
“In the Forest Service right now, they’re not doing any prescribed fire or pile burning. If they miss those windows, which are usually a couple weeks a year, they’re going to wait until next year,” Moseley said. “There is a lot in the federal government that is going to wait until next year.”
However, Boyd said many of UO’s researchers are reimbursed for their expenditures, so it’s not always as disruptive to research.
“I think our university, because of the composition of our research program, which is especially oriented to the National Institute of Health and Institute of Education Sciences, is dealing with fewer research impacts than other institutions.”
The Department of Education, which oversees Federal Student Aid, was still open during the shutdown, said Jim Brooks, director of Student Aid and Scholarships.
Difficulties did come up for some students, Brooks said, when trying to verify information for their FAFSA with other federal agencies that are closed during the shutdown. Brooks said that most of those issues were resolved when the department changed the process for verifying that information in early January of this year.
Since the Department of Education is currently funded by the government, student aid payments are still being distributed, both Brooks and Boyd said.
The number of students whose financial aid at UO was impacted is much smaller than at some other schools, Brooks said, because most students had submitted their FAFSA information in the fall prior to the shutdown. Brooks said other schools where more students come to campus in the winter are facing more challenges.
But some individual UO students who may need documents from the IRS for their financial aid are encountering challenges, Boyd said. The financial aid office is working with those students on a case-by-case basis, she said.
Brooks, who was interviewed by the Emerald before Congress and the president struck a temporary deal, estimated that the shutdown would create more difficulties for financial aid if it continued through late February, when the university begins to inform new students of their financial aid awards.
“Where that might get tricky is if this shutdown goes on too much longer,” Brooks said. “I don’t think anybody anticipates the shutdown going that long, but I don’t think anyone anticipated them going as long as they’ve gone right now.”
SNAP food benefits
Individuals who are enrolled in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program receive monthly benefits to buy groceries. Funds are usually distributed on or after the first of the month; however, benefits for February were released early on Friday, Jan. 18 due to the shutdown.
“It is very important to carefully budget your food benefits through February,” Dawn Myers, SNAP program manager, wrote in a letter to those enrolled in the program.
According to the Student Sustainability Center’s website, many students who are on work-study programs or who receive other aid are also eligible for SNAP benefits. While the funding for food security programs remains at least through February, there are a number of other programs through the university that can support students facing food insecurity.
The Student Sustainability Center works with Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon and the Department of Human Services to enroll students in food assistance programs and offers a variety of other support. More information can be found at dos.uoregon.edu/food.
DeFazio addresses impact on community members and military personnel
A bill was passed in September 2018 to ensure that military branches under the Department of Defense would have secure funding through at least September 2019. Despite passing the bill, members of the Coast Guard that are considered essential have been required to work without pay through the shutdown because they fall under the Department of Homeland Security.
According to the Student Veterans Center, about 450 people at UO have self-identified as being a member of the military or are military-affiliated.
Congressman Peter DeFazio held a town hall meeting on Saturday to hear from members of the community on how the shutdown has affected them. Though the government is now open, DeFazio said, “It’s not over yet.”
DeFazio commented on how a wall would not be the best way to spend money for border security. He said more funding should be spent on better technology and hiring more personnel to protect borders. He also noted that the Coast Guard, which was working without pay during the shutdown, intercepts more drugs than Customs and Border Protection at the southern border.
Maria Kalnbach, the nontraditional and veteran student engagement and success coordinator at UO, said her son, a Coast Guardsman, has been impacted by the shutdown. Her husband is a retired Coast Guardsman as well, and she says she hasn’t seen an impact like this before.
“It’s hard as a mom to worry about your son. Just knowing that he’s struggling to figure out how he’s going to be able to pay the rent next month and how that’s all going to work out,” said Kalnbach.
While her son was on leave a few weeks ago, she said she stocked him up on groceries and helped him get a car payment delayed until he had the money to pay it.
Many community organizations like churches and food banks have offered to help unpaid servicemen and women. Kalnbach said that any students facing concerns because of the shutdown can reach out to her to brainstorm and seek out resources for assistance.
“The bottom line is it’s a relief that we have three weeks when people will be paid and the government will begin to have people back in their positions but it’s by no means over,” Boyd said. “So from a university standpoint, we’re continuing to pay very close attention to this. I think students or anyone that’s affected should know that their elected officials want to hear from them.”
Kalnbach can be reached by email at [email protected] and by phone at 541-346-1160.
Emily Goodykoontz contributed reporting to this story.