Government shutdown leaves vets uncertain

Santa Monica College veteran student Ronald Gray served three years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps, four years in the Reserve, two years in the Texas National Guard, and two years in the California Guard.

Two weeks ago, Gray received a denial from the Social Security Office of Disability, stating that he has to wait until it reopens to file an appeal.

“I’m looking at what’s happening, and it’s making me nervous,” he said.

Without this money, Gray would be homeless and unable to attend school.

Since the government shutdown began, now in day 16, SMC funding has remained intact and largely unaffected. But students like Gray, who rely on federal money to survive, are starting to feel the heat in light of the continuing shutdown.

“We’re good until the end of the month, but if the shutdown continues, we don’t know what will happen,” said Linda Sinclair, faculty leader for the Veterans’ Resource Center.

Some veteran resources have already been shuttered, Sinclair said. Among them are the West Los Angeles Vocational Rehabilitation Center and the San Diego Regional Office, which have been furloughed.

If the shutdown continues, processing claims on pensions, education and rehabilitation programs will be “suspended when available funding is exhausted,” according to the “Veterans Field Guide to Government Shutdown” document on the Department of Veteran Affairs’ website.

For Gray, his pension and education benefits could be suspended starting next month.

However, most of the state money that SMC receives has already been allocated for the year.

“Although the federal programs fund some of the state’s money, [the shutdown] is very minimal to us,” said Bob Isomoto, vice president of business and administration at SMC.

Most of the school's funding from the U.S. Department of Education is through forward funding, which is allocated a few years in advance, allowing the funds to still exist even in the event of a shutdown, said Laurie McQuay-Peninger, director of grants at SMC. However, annually appropriated funds would be affected.

“Federal funding comes from the Department of Education, and they forward fund most of it, and thus our programs are safe; they’re not impacted,” McQuay-Peninger said.

“Although the school pays for the running of the veterans' office and personnel, some veterans' programs may be affected,” Isomoto said.

SMC's Financial Aid Office has seen issues with students that have yet to be awarded funds and are randomly selected by the Department of Education to submit tax return transcripts from the Internal Revenue Service.

“Students are not able to retrieve those tax returns from the IRS,” said Jeremy Newman, student support clerk at SMC.

Students would normally mail the documents after receiving them from the IRS, or use the online site that is now closed due to the shutdown. On this site, students could retrieve the documents by using a link in order to transfer the income information onto the online application.

Students would not be able to go to the IRS office to get an official copy, so the closure would delay an already six-to-eight-week process to receive financial aid.

According to the Department of Education's contingency plan, since the shutdown lasted longer than a week, the department was set to phase employees in only as necessary to prevent significant damage.

But even in a longer-lasting shutdown, no more than six percent of the total staff, which would include partial and rotating employees, would be phased in. This means that SMC students seeking financial aid would have a much longer wait until they receive it.

Teresita Rodriguez, vice president of enrollment development at SMC, had some concerns about students being able to apply for financial aid and that international students coming abroad would not be able to secure visas.

“The international office contacted the consulates, and they’ve told us business as usual,” Rodriguez said.

The enrollment office is continuing to monitor the situation to make sure students are not greatly impacted.

“The FAFSA website is still up, and students can actually apply, make corrections," she said. "The other thing is that we draw down funds as we need them to pay students from the federal government, and both those things are operational. Most students have already gotten their first check and are already processed for this semester."

NewsTina EadyComment