Grinding to a halt

Government_Shutdown_RallyI think it’s safe to say—even if you do happen to live under a rock—that just about every student at Bellevue College has heard about the ongoing government shutdown. It’s an issue so complex that most people are struggling to comprehend it, let alone figure out how to move forward. Look at your Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines, and  you’ll find that this is a problem that all of America has put front and center.

But there’s a fundamental difference this time. All the armchair quarterbacks, the know it alls, the self-professed geniuses—you know the type—they’re proud of themselves just for being able to explain the problem. I’m not seeing the smug essay-length statuses from kids who just finished Econ 100 and suddenly know how to fix the economy. I know people are angry. You see and hear that everywhere, but the arguing seems muted for all the discontent. We’re as capable of fighting tooth and nail as ever before; the recent slew of polarizing issues has made that much clear. Between the War on Drugs, unrest in the Middle East, domestic surveillance, gay rights, you name it—there’s no shortage of reasons to exercise our First Amendment rights. But this time around, it seems the most intelligent thought we can piece together is “Congress is doin’ it wrong”.

Their approval rating shows that we’re all in agreement. It’s sitting at five percent, breaking record lows for the third year running. In case you need your memory refreshed, it started when Congress pulled a similar stunt over the debt ceiling in 2011—pushing deliberations to within hours of a midnight deadline.

Then, 2012 saw a close call with a shutdown, a threat that has finally come to pass just this last week. As of the present moment, neither party has shown signs of budging. So we sit befuddled, waiting for something to happen.

For some, the shutdown has come down straight on their shoulders. Almost a million federal employees deemed “nonessential”—a contentious distinction itself—have been furloughed indefinitely and told not to expect back pay. In essence, it’s an arbitrary, indefinite layoff. For students or their family members who were planning on a steady paycheck from the government with a AAA credit rating—sorry, out of luck. Apparently the most powerful country on Earth has higher priorities than having a functioning government.

To add to the burdens of those of us struggling with finances at the moment, FAFSA has announced that they will not be processing applications for the duration of the shutdown. According to the official website, the loss of  over 90 percent percent of their employees will have a “limited impact” on the function of the aid department.

Thankfully, Pell Grants and federal student loans will continue to be paid out provided they have already been processed, as they derive their funding from sources outside the suspended portion of the government budget. It is solvent for the time being, but the longer we drag out the shutdown, the worse things will get.

We’re in a tough spot, but hey, at least Congress is getting paid.