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Effect of government shutdown on Stony Brook University

The shutdown took 16 days to resolve itself on Capitol Hill. President Barack Obama speaks about the government's reopening on Oct. 17, 2013. (PHOTO CREDIT : MCTCAMPUS)
The shutdown took 16 days to resolve on Capitol Hill. President Barack Obama speaks about the government’s reopening on Oct. 17, 2013. (PHOTO CREDIT : MCTCAMPUS)

Since the start of this month, the whole nation was engulfed in two topics: the government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis. Stony Brook University is keeping a close watch on both topics since no matter what the outcomes of the crises are, it will have a huge impact on the university.

As the government’s fiscal year came to an end on the night of Sept. 30, Congress had still not passed spending bills to fund the government. Without funding, most government departments closed, except for a few important ones such as the military, Social Security and Air Traffic Control.

According to CNN, the shutdown resulted in the furlough of 483,000 (14 percent) of federal workers. Fortunately, none of those were from Stony Brook University. According to Vice President for External Relations Elaine Crosson, there have been no furloughs in the university so far due to the shutdown.

However, according to Crosson and Michael E. Arens, the assistant vice president for Government and Community Affairs, the university’s research department suffered.

“The NIH (National Institute of Health) is already committed to funding for research projects underway,” Arens said. “But if the shutdown continues, that’s where it becomes a bigger problem because right now researchers cannot submit any new grant applications for funding.”

The submission and approval of grants were delayed because of the shutdown, which delayed research. Researchers who have already received their funding, however, were not affected unless they wanted to file for more funding.

Professor Benjamin S. Hsiao, who works closely with Brookhaven National Laboratory, said the closing of certain government facilities severely impacted research projects that relied on data provided by these government facilities.

“Some professors have projects with other national laboratories and they just issued stop order because the national laboratories had to pay their employees,” Hsiao said.

President Stanley expressed his worry regarding the shutdown’s effect on research departments.

He said in a press conference, “NIH and NSF [National Science Foundation], DOE [Department of Energy] and the other funding agencies have seen significant percentage cuts and so those are real dollars at Stony Brook and then millions of dollars essentially we have seen reductions and how much our researchers are receiving and so we are already seeing the impact.”

Crosson worries that the shutdown’s effect on research may discourage young researchers or undergraduate students thinking about a career in research.

“In some ways we’ll never know how much this will cost the university or the country,” Crosson said.

There have also been concerns regarding Federal Work-Study across campus, as many believed the FWS students would not be receiving their pay.

Despite furloughs in the Department of Education, which oversees the FWS program, Arens said the university will draw down funding for the program so students will receive payment.

Students relying on food stamps, housing assistance, or Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), which the Department of Education deals with, from the federal government may have suffered due to the cutbacks.

Head Start and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which are programs designed by the government for working students with children have also seen cuts.

Jeffrey Segal, a SUNY distinguished professor and the chairman of the department of political science, said, “if you are a student who is living independently with low income and relying on the federal government for assistance, then you are going to be in deep trouble.”

When talking about how the percentage of American people who say they approve of the job the Congress is doing dropped to about 5 percent  from 9 percent, Segal said “I would imagine that Bashar al-Assad could get a higher rating than that. Five percent is almost nothing. So people in the United States detest congress.”

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