Government shutdown affecting some students financial aid

Published: Jan. 8, 2019 at 6:26 PM CST
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As the partial shutdown of the federal government continues, each day brings new information about how it's affecting our daily lives.

And while most of us may not notice it on a day-to-day basis, those that do get affected can find it a life altering experience.

Missouri St. junior Isabella Rowe is one of an estimated 60 students who got some disturbing news less than a week before the start of the spring semester.

Her federal financial aid is in a state of limbo because of the IRS, which doesn't even distribute financial aid.

But the information they distribute does help determine if you get it.

And the IRS is currently closed by the government shutdown.

So Isabella sat in Missouri State's financial aid office on Tuesday to get some not so happy news from assistant director Stephen Garman.

"Because I don't have his transcript, I can't release your student aid," Garman said, referring to a tax transcript from her father that was unavailable because the IRS is shuttered, from its physical buildings to many of its on-line services.

So just like that, Rowe, who thought her school financial aid was all taken care of, suddenly found her federal financial assistance in limbo.

"Without financial aid you can't register for classes," Garman. "That's the hurdle we have to jump."

Garman explained that he would try to do everything possible to get that information before Monday's start of class, but Isabella admitted that her frustration level, "on a scale of 1-to-10, is a 7.9!"

Although it's on a small scale, it is happening all across the country as students who still need tax information get an unwelcome surprise just days before the start of the spring semester.

"We have to have certain types of documents from the IRS in order to release a student's financial aid," Garman explained. "There's a number of students that we're working with who would normally be able to get this information but they can't and that's preventing them from registering this coming semester."

There are several forms students might need from the IRS ranging from their parents past tax information to a tax return transcript.

"You can think of it like graded homework where we, the students, complete our homework, and file our tax return," Garman said of the transcript. "We give it to the teacher, the IRS, who grades the homework and gives us back a report card."

But unfortunately the "teacher" is on unpaid leave.

There is one source of optimism though.

The Department of Education, which is responsible for federal student aid, is still operating. So Garman suggests that students try going to that department's application site and clicking on an automatic link to the IRS' database. Hopefully they'll be able to gain access to the information they need.

"My recommendation would be to try this first," Garman said. "If it doesn't work, then talk to your financial aid office."

While many of us loathe IRS-related frustrations, Garman says this latest problem with the federal bureaucracy does have its positive side.

"The silver lining is that it's a learning experience for the students," he said.

He also predicted that if the government shutdown continues for a few more weeks, it could start affecting students efforts to get their financial aid for next fall.

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