On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the federal government was unable to reach a consensus on the yearly budget, causing the first government shutdown in 17 years. Congress could not agree on how to fund federal projects, and without passing bills that outline next year’s spending, the federal government will experience a shutdown until an agreement is reached.
The shutdown has been anticipated in the last few weeks, as the House of Representatives and the Senate have been at odds over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Republican-controlled House recently passed a budget that included a provision delaying the Affordable Care Act until next year, but the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the bill, instead calling for a budget without any controversial legislative riders attached to it.
Since then, Congress has continued arguing over the budget, with a major focus on the Affordable Care Act. Because a decision was not made by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, the government has been forced to shut down.
Students of Hopkins were assured that the current state of the government would have little direct effect on the university in an email sent by Provost Robert Lieberman on the morning of the shutdown.
“While there will be many visible signs of the shutdown, such as the closure of national parks across the country and the Smithsonian museums in Washington, in the near term, we do not expect that the work of Johns Hopkins students, faculty, or staff will be directly affected,” Lieberman wrote.
Lieberman elaborated on his forecast for the impacts on the University more specifically in an email to The News-Letter. He does not believe that a short-term shutdown will have much of an effect on Hopkins students, but concedes that the city of Baltimore may experience some trouble.
“Maryland has a relatively large concentration of federal employees, working at the Social Security Administration’s headquarters outside Baltimore, for example, and at the NIH and FDA among other federal agencies in Montgomery County,” Lieberman wrote. “There are also civilian employees at Defense Department facilities in the state. So yes, there is a disproportionate effect on our state[...]Many of our employees have spouses or other family members who are federal employees. If this situation drags on, those families will face the financial stress of living on one paycheck instead of two.”
While according to Lieberman the shutdown will have little effect on the University in the short-term, it will greatly affect various government-run programs. The National Institute of Health cannot accept new patients for clinical research, and all museums and national parks are closed. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has had to send home employees who usually study and track the outbreak of deadly pathogens. NASA has had to send home all employees other than those at Mission Control and the astronauts in the International Space Station. If the shutdown lasts longer than a few weeks, Washington, D.C. may have to close all of its services that have been deemed “non-essential.”
The Department of Education, like all the other governmental agencies, has released a contingency plan stating how it will be affected by the shutdown.
Like all other government agencies, only employees deemed “essential” will continue to work and receive pay during the shutdown. The plan also describes how grant and loan programs will be affected.
“Programs which can make obligations and payments include Pell Grants and Federal Direct Student Loans[...] Obligations and payments from these programs may continue, dependent on the length of the lapse. Only those grant activities which, if not continued, would prevent or significantly damage the execution of funded functions will continue on a limited basis after a lapse of one week and continue through a short-term shutdown[...]The student financial aid services should continue in order to avoid the potential loss of federal assets and to maintain the delivery of student aid,” the plan stated.
In his email, Lieberman stated that students’ financial aid will not be put at risk.
“Financial aid is not an issue. Students on aid should see no impact because of the way that Pell Grants and direct student loans are funded by law,” Lieberman wrote.
The main concern for the University at this time is the funding of research. If the shutdown is short, research should be largely unaffected. However, if the government fails to reach an agreement in the next week or two, some Hopkins research groups may be unable to continue.
“There are cases where research is already being interrupted,” Lieberman wrote. “In the first two days of the shutdown, we have already learned that those who rely on government resources such as the Library of Congress or PubMed Central to do their work or conduct their scholarship are not able to use those resources. In addition, those who collaborate with federal employees on research projects may not be able to reach their partners or access labs at federal facilities.”
Research is a crucial component of Hopkins, and it will certainly feel the effects of the shutdown if the government is unable to form a budget compromise within the next week or two.
“Our research can continue, though in some cases we may not be able to receive research funds until the shutdown is over,” Lieberman wrote. “In the short term, that is not a huge issue. But if the shutdown lasts more than a week or two, that would increasingly become a problem, but it’s hard to say yet just how serious it will become.”