Some students still feel shutdown pain

Some students still feel shutdown pain
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Casey Monahan was very excited to start studying at Florida International University this month. The 21-year-old, who had just earned an associate’s degree at her local community college, signed up for four classes in her quest to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

But the partial government shutdown threw a wrench in those plans. With the Internal Revenue Service closed, Monahan wasn’t able to retrieve tax documents she needed for financial aid in time and was forced to drop three classes — and even then she had to borrow money from family to pay the first installment of $270 on the single class she kept.

“I’d like to earn my bachelor’s as quickly as possible so I can begin to work full time as a certified teacher and continue on to a master’s program,” said Monahan, who eventually got her aid and now plans to take summer classes to catch up. “I do not want to postpone a semester but because of the shutdown, I have very little other options.”

President Donald Trump signed a bill ending the shutdown Friday. Top Trump administration officials had suggested that the effects of the shutdown will evaporate as soon as the government reopens. “The moment, the nanosecond the government is … reopened all these glitches will go away,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Thursday.

But the experience of students like Monahan shows that’s not true. The 35-day closure wreaked havoc not just on furloughed workers and contractors, but on the millions of Americans who depend on the government to provide crucial services or information.

College students ran into trouble because the IRS tool to get tax transcripts was down until last week. Many students needed these transcripts to receive their financial aid for the spring semester, and it was “causing a lot of problems,” said Megan Coval, vice president for policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

The agency’s website said the tool was down for maintenance, but students were unable to get help on the phone or at IRS offices because the workers had been furloughed. The IRS did not return a request for comment.

Take Taylor and Aubry Evans, who moved from California to Canada a few weeks ago to continue their higher education at a more prestigious college. The 21-year-old twins realized they needed additional tax documents when they arrived on campus in early January. While Taylor Evans was recently able to obtain her tax transcript, their father still hasn’t been able to, blocking them from completing their paperwork. They are trying to reach the IRS, but they can’t get through because the call volume is too high.

Without aid, they cannot pay their tuition — due January 31 — or their February rent. If the funds don’t arrive in the next few days, they will have to return to San Diego — but they’ll still be on the hook for tuition since the deadline to drop classes has already passed.

“We had it budgeted perfectly,” Taylor Evans said, noting the sisters don’t feel they can count on the aid coming through. “If it’s not resolved, we’re going to go home.”

The delays prompted some schools — such as York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina — to require students to set up payment plans in order to remain registered for the semester, said Justin Pichey, associate director of financial aid at York, which has roughly 7,000 students.

That’s what Kat Lucena had to do. A freshman double majoring in arts and finance at Technical College of the LowCountry in South Carolina, Lucena requested her tax transcript soon after the IRS tool became operational last week. But her aid has not yet come through, so she was forced to set up a plan and put the first $500 tuition payment on her credit card.

Lucena, 23, already works full time at a print shop to cover her other bills. She won’t be able to pay off the tuition in full so she’ll incur interest and late fees — at least until her aid is finalized, she said.

“It’s adding more stress than I need,” said Lucena, of Bluffton, S.C. “I’d rather focus just on my studies.”