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Friday, September 30, 2022

Fiscal cliff could impact student aid, research

Eric Brown is worried.

The UF political science sophomore is one of more than 20,000 UF students who depend on certain types of federal financial aid — some of which they could lose in 2013 if the U.S. Congress fails to act on the looming “fiscal cliff.”

“I think it’s insane that people are being held hostage like this,” Brown, 19, said. “Everyone’s suffering.”

The fiscal cliff refers to a set of automatic federal spending cuts and tax hikes engineered by Congress in an effort to force themselves to compromise on lowering the country’s debt.

Since all attempts at working together have failed so far, Congress now has 26 days to reach a deal before the nation faces harsh penalties.

While this would affect students who, like Brown, depend on federal financial aid programs, the fiscal cliff could also impact students involved with research.

This means UF could face another budget cut.

UF gets about two-thirds of its funding from federal agencies. Virtually all of the federal agencies that fund UF would experience 7 to 8 percent budget cuts if Congress doesn’t reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, according to a report released in September by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

Although it is unclear how these offices would absorb the lost revenue, UF could lose a portion of its federal funding.

This lost revenue would be coupled with deep cuts already levied by Florida’s Legislature.

“We don’t know a whole lot about what’s going to happen,” UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said. “It’s unclear how the federal agencies would make their cuts.”

UF and other universities also stand to lose funding for research. Federal programs that write grants for university research — like the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Humanities — would see cuts between 7.6 and 8.2 percent in their budgets, according to the White House report. This could mean less money available to award for research.

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Awards could also be limited for students, like Brown, who depend on federal financial aid programs.

While the Federal Pell Grant will remain unscathed during 2013, virtually all other federally funded financial aid programs could see budget cuts of more than 8 percent.

This would include federal work-study and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, according to Inside Higher Education, which are two of the most common aid programs.

Brown relies on the Federal Pell Grant and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant to help pay his tuition. But with the cuts to the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Brown fears that he may not have enough money to get his degree.

“Basically, either I’ll have to drop out or get a couple of jobs to make up for the difference in what I’ll get for my tuition,” Brown said. “I could take out private loans, but then I’d be racked with debt.”

Taking out private loans could prove more expensive, too, as student loan origination fees would also increase if the U.S. reaches the fiscal cliff, according to Inside Higher Education.

Richard Wilder, the director of UF Office for Student Financial Affairs, said students shouldn’t worry about evaporating federal assistance this academic year.

“I don’t believe this will affect students for the spring semester,” Wilder said. “But next year, who knows?”

Despite the possible consequences that await universities and students across the country, Congress has made little headway in negotiations.

President Barack Obama said he would require a deal to include increased taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, according to The New York Times.

However, some Republican leaders in Congress said they would refuse to raise the tax rate. Some refuse to raise the rate unless Congress alters so-called entitlement programs like Medicaid and welfare, according to The New York Times.

Leading Democrats say they are unwilling to adjust these programs.

Cliff Stearns, a Republican who represents Gainesville and Ocala in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he would like to see Congress decrease spending.

However, he said he hopes the House of Representatives will set priorities on what programs to fund, like higher education.

“By relying on automatic cuts, Congress is abandoning its responsibility,” Stearns said in a statement. “The cuts, set to take place at the start of 2013, would directly impact higher education and the University of Florida.”

But almost 900 miles from Washington, D.C., some people at UF said they find it hard to understand why the Legislature would use universities’ funding and federal financial aid as pawns in a game of political chess.

Brown said he’s not the only person worried about the future of his education.

Brown’s mother raised Brown and his three brothers by herself while working full-time as a registered nurse. Brown said his mother tried to instill the importance of education in each of her sons, but now, she’s worried that her youngest son may face financial obstacles while trying to finish his education. She’s worried it’s one check she won’t be able to write.

“She wants me to focus on my education, so now she’s going to stress out about it,” he said. “She’s already overworked.”

Contact Shelby Webb at swebb@alligator.org.

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