Despite the U.S. government’s most recent shutdown, Wheaton College remains relatively unaffected. This shutdown is currently the longest shutdown in the history of the United States, surpassing the 21-day government shutdown in 1995 under former President Clinton. According to multiple news sources such as CBS, CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, the shutdown occurred because of disagreement in the government over President Trump’s demands for five billion dollars to be used to fund a border wall between the United States and Mexico. An impasse prolonged the shutdown: Democrats will not allow any new money to be used for the construction of the wall, and President Trump has yet to declare a national emergency in order to fund the wall.
According to the National Emergencies Act of 1976, a national emergency is described as a crisis, such as a national security issue, which threatens the country. The act allows the president to redirect government money without approval from Congress. The declaration of a national emergency would thus allow President Trump to fund the border wall.
In a politics poll done by George Washington University in 2018, 80 percent of polled Republicans reported that dealing with immigrants should be a priority for the government. The Democrats are reported to support increased border security, but not a physical barrier. In particular, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer refuse to budge and give President Trump funding for the border wall. According to CNN, some Republican senators have deviated from their party’s plan and announced their support for funding the government without allocating money to build the border wall.
While many public colleges may feel some effects of the shutdown, as they are funded by state governments, private colleges such as Wheaton are comparatively untouched, for the college is funded mainly through tuition payments and private contributions. Many east coast public colleges and universities, according to CNBC, have postponed tuition payments and waived late fees for students whose finances are tied up due to the shutdown. Because the Education Department is already funded under a previous bill, federal financial aid will continue to be given out. While some students were attempting to fill out the federal aid applications, however, they found out that they needed additional verification materials from the IRS. The part of the IRS that would allow students to access this information, however, was shut down. The Department of Education released a statement in January which provides more flexible guidelines for the applications during a government shutdown and allows students to submit alternative documents for verification.
Students whose parents are government workers have especially felt the impact of the shutdown as they attempt to pay for their tuition and books. Because of the longevity of the shutdown, government workers did not receive their paychecks. Many employees who work in public safety positions such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were working without pay. Not only does the shutdown affect the personal lives of these workers who are now struggling to pay for their many finances, which may include medical costs, mortgages and groceries, but it also affects the economy of the United States as a whole as well as the economy of the smaller cities whose stores and restaurants rely on nearby government workers for business. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has guidance on their website online for furloughed workers, which includes letters that workers can send to creditors and mortgage companies to explain why they are unable to pay.
Additionally, the furlough of Education Department staff members involved in making grants may lead to delays in awarding grants to colleges later in the year. According to the Education Department’s contingency plan, more than 90 percent of its employees were furloughed during the shutdown, and up to 6 percent of its workers were called back to perform essential jobs, such as providing payments to grantees and administering student aid. With a prolonged shutdown, workers would have piles of paperwork to work through, which may lead to a delay in processing grant applications. The funding of private colleges who do not require federal money, however, would remain unaltered.
On Jan. 25, 2019, a temporary deal was reached to reopen the government for three weeks. If another deal is not reached by Feb. 15, the government will shut down and colleges may once again have to deal with the possible funding effects.