Shut­down de­lays finan­cial aid for stu­dents

Feds loosen guide­lines but un­cer­tainty re­mains

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Mon­ica Kast

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – As the gov­ern­ment shut­down con­tin­ues, some col­lege stu­dents say they are hav­ing to es­ti­mate how much fed­eral aid they’ll get – and re­al­iz­ing they may re­ceive less than they thought.

When com­plet­ing the Free Ap­pli­ca­tion for Fed­eral Stu­dent Aid, or FAFSA, some stu­dents have found they need ad­di­tional ver­ification ma­te­rial from the IRS. How­ever, the part of the IRS that al­lows them to ac­cess ad­di­tional doc­u­ments has been shut down.

The De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion said Wed­nes­day it would pro­vide more flex­i­ble guide­lines for in­sti­tu­tions dur­ing the shut­down, al­low­ing them to ac­cept ad­di­tional doc­u­ments for ver­ification. Stu­dents can now sub­mit a signed copy of in­come tax re­turns or W-2 forms in­stead of orig­i­nals, which may not be avail­able from the IRS dur­ing the shut­down.

Ha­ley Church, a se­nior at John­son Uni­ver­sity out­side Knoxville, is still wait­ing for her FAFSA to be pro­cessed be­cause of the shut­down. Church got mar­ried in May, which meant she needed her 2016 tax doc­u­ments, as well as her hus­band’s.

“There was a lot of stuff that I had to get that I didn’t pre­vi­ously have to get as an in­de­pen­dent stu­dent,” Church said.

Church, who is in her last se­mes­ter at John­son, tried to get the doc­u­ments through the IRS web­site, but the func­tion was shut down. She also went to an IRS office. “The office was dark and there was no one there,” she said.

Ha­ley Church, a stu­dent at John­son Uni­ver­sity in Ten­nessee, fears that the aid she re­ceives will be less than the orig­i­nal es­ti­mate.

“I was told there was no way to ac­cess any­thing un­til the gov­ern­ment re­in­states,” Church said.

Church was able to work with the finan­cial aid office at John­son and worked out an es­ti­mate of how much fed­eral aid she will re­ceive once the gov­ern­ment re­opens. John­son Uni­ver­sity had 1,334 un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents en­rolled for the fall 2018 se­mes­ter.

“Not only did they help me with the aca­demic, finan­cial part of it, they en­cour­aged me that we would figure some­thing out,” Church said of the finan­cial aid office.

How­ever, Church said, “there’s still a lot of risk.” She fears that the aid she re­ceives will be less than the orig­i­nal es­ti­mate. If that hap­pens, Church said, she may have to drop out in her last se­mes­ter and work full-time be­cause she would be re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing the differ­ence.

“There’s the in­tense fear of work­ing for four years to go into a hu­man ser­vices field ... and not know­ing if I can even work in my field if I don’t grad­u­ate,” Church said.

Other univer­si­ties say they’re work­ing with stu­dents. The Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee said it would sup­port stu­dents to make sure their course­work isn’t in­ter­rupted.

At Pel­lis­sippi State Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Knoxville, ap­prox­i­mately 165 of the 10,000-plus stu­dents still need ad­di­tional ver­ification doc­u­ments from the IRS.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances those stu­dents would have been dropped from their classes, said Leigh Anne Touzeau, as­sis­tant vice pres­i­dent for en­roll­ment ser­vices. Be­cause of the shut­down, their spots were held.

With the new guide­lines from the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, Touzeau said she hoped the is­sues would be re­solved soon and the funds would be re­leased.

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