Plans for a Shutdown

Pell Grants and federal student loans would remain mostly unaffected by a government shutdown but federal research funding would come to a halt, according to the Obama administration’s latest contingency plans.

September 30, 2013

As the clock runs down on a Monday night deadline for Congress to reach agreement on a funding measure or else force most of government to close, the Obama administration is providing details on how federal agencies would operate during a shutdown.

The new contingency procedures for agencies that most directly affect higher education are largely in line with plans created under the threat of previous government shutdowns. Many observers expect students and colleges and universities to be affected only modestly, at least during a short-term shutdown.

The Education Department said in its updated plan released Friday that a lapse in appropriations this week  “would fall at a critical point in the administration of the large student aid program” and would interfere in a range of bureaucratic and administrative tasks that are needed carry out the federal aid system.

However, the largest student aid programs would remain mostly unaffected by a government shutdown.

“As a result of the permanent and multiyear appropriations, Pell Grants and [federal] student loans could continue as normal,” the Education Department said. “Staff and contractors associated with these areas will continue to work.”

Students would continue to have access to Pell Grants and federal loans, and most customer service centers would remain open. Education Department websites would remain available, as would student loan servicer sites.  (The department’s Federal Student Aid office also provided Friday more detailed technical guidance for financial aid professionals on the impact of a government shutdown.)

A host of other, smaller financial aid programs that require Education Department personnel to operate would be harder-hit by a shutdown. The department plans to furlough employees who support campus-based aid programs such as Federal Work-Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.

The department would also not award new grants to institutions since as much as 90 percent of its workforce will be told to stay at home.

The flow of new federal scientific research money would come to halt during a shutdown.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed in its contingency plans that the National Institutes of Health would not accept new patients on its campus or begin any new research experiments. Although scientists currently working on NIH grants would continue their work, the agency would “not take any actions on grant applications or awards.”

The National Science Foundation was set to follow a similar procedure. Individuals may continue work on all current awards “to the extent that doing so will not require federal staff intervention and that funds are available,” the agency said. “No payments will be made during the funding hiatus.”

Unless Congress passes a measure to fund the government on Monday — a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely — the shutdown will begin at midnight on Tuesday.

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Michael Stratford

Michael Stratford, Reporter, covers federal policy for Inside Higher Ed. He joined the publication in August 2013 after a stint covering the Arkansas state legislature for The Associated Press. He previously worked and interned at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and The Chronicle of Higher Education. At The Chronicle, he wrote about federal policy and covered higher education issues in the 2012 elections. Michael grew up in Belmont, Mass. and graduated from Cornell University, where he was managing editor of The Cornell Daily Sun.

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