Some work-study programs will lose 8.2% of their budgets if Congress fails to act within two months.
Kate Ayala, a junior studying environmental planning and design at the University of New Mexico, works about 20 hours a week in her university’s alumni office. It’s a job she enjoys, but worries may be in jeopardy.
Ayala’s on-campus position is funded by the federal work-study program — a program that will lose 8.2% of its budget if Congress fails to act within two months, according to Justin Draeger, CEO and president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).
“My work-study is really important to me,” Ayala said. “I rely on the income for everything that I do daily.”
Ayala said that she may be forced to consider taking out more loans to fund her education if federal cuts result in a smaller paycheck for her.
The last hour deal struck by Congress on Jan. 1 averted the fiscal cliff, but delayed decisions on many automatic spending cuts until March, according to a recent USA TODAY report.
The automatic cuts, referred to as sequestration, will include about $2.95 billion in cuts to the United States Department of Education, according to Draeger.
“Students will definitely feel the pinch,” Draeger said.
For students relying on financial aid, this will equal cuts to the federal work-study program, an increase in some federally sponsored student loans and cuts to the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant — a grant program awarded to students with exceptional need.
The sequester wouldn’t trigger cuts to the flagship Pell Grant program, and any cuts that do go into effect likely wouldn’t impact students until the 2013-14 academic year.
To convince Congress to act in ways preventing sequestration cuts to education many organizations, including NASFAA, are working in a large coalition to lobby Congress.
The purpose, Draeger said, is “to drive home to Congress that this would be a game changer for a lot of students.”
Draeger is cautiously optimistic, citing bipartisan support for other federal aid programs. Yet he still fears that Congress will act in a last-minute fashion that leaves little room for the public voice to be heard.
“When dealing with fiscal issues in a last-minute, short-term way, it doesn’t give us the time to fully debate and discuss the implications of decisions,” said Draeger.
Until a decision is made by Congress, students like Ayala will continue reporting to work, but with perhaps a bit more on their mind.
“I think there’s a lot of wasted money and if we want to be a strong country we really need to focus on education,” Ayala said. “Education is the real strength of our country.”
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