On Monday evening, Congress failed to reach an agreement on a budget for the 2014 fiscal year, triggering the first federal government shutdown since 1996. While the most immediate impact affects some 800,000 federal employees and contractors who have been furloughed, the ripple effect is reaching academic research institutions as well.
The good news is that students should not be impacted by the situation. In fact, Northeastern officials do not expect the shutdown to have any negative impact on the university’s financial aid program. Pell Grants and funds from the Direct Loan program will be disbursed on schedule, and the majority of the U.S. Department of Education’s customer service contact centers will remain open during the shutdown. If the shutdown lasts longer than one week, the federal government will not make new disbursements of campus-based aid programs—including the Work-Study and Perkins Loan programs as well as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant—but Northeastern will have the financial flexibility to manage the shortfall for the remainder of the fall semester at the least.
“We have the flexibility to use institutional resources in the absence of federal cash to manage these programs without impacting students,” said Anthony Erwin, dean of student financial services.
While Northeastern students may not be affected by the shutdown, researchers may feel a minimal, temporary impact. However, if the shutdown extends for several weeks or more, the impact will be greater. Federal research agencies ranging from the National Institutes of Health to the Department of Homeland Security will not be permitted to grant new research awards nor provide administrative support for grant recipients. Although drawdown of funds awarded in the 2013 fiscal year is allowed, the National Science Foundation will not accept new proposals. Grants.gov will accept and store—but not process—submissions.
With regard to university hiring, while the federal E-verify system that confirms employees’ authorization to work in the U.S. isn’t functioning due to the shutdown, this will not prevent Northeastern from hiring new employees. However, new employees and the university must still fill out and file the federal I-9 form and in some cases, start dates may be delayed.
Northeastern officials encourage faculty and staff to confirm any meetings or events with federal agencies or personnel that were scheduled prior to the shutdown. The university is monitoring the situation and its contingency planning includes working closely with members of Congress as well as federal officials.
“We are in constant communication with members of Congress and other federal officials. While the situation is volatile, we’re optimistic that the impact on Northeastern’s teaching and research will be minimal,” said Michael Armini, senior vice president for external affairs.