Pierce weathers shutdown storm

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Pierce administration and staff are largely unaffected by the government shutdown, but some students are struggling in other areas

As what has become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history trudges on, Pierce College continues to operate as normal.

The shutdown began on Dec. 21 after spending bills were not signed into law before the midnight deadline. President Donald Trump had indicated that he would not sign any spending bills that did not contain over $5 billion to help fund his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, one of his campaign promises. 

“If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it’s through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government,” Trump said on Dec. 11 in a televised Oval Office meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Many of the things we do here at Pierce are also funded locally and through the state.””

— Choi Halladay, Vice President of Administrative Services

“And I am proud, I’ll tell you what. I am proud to shutdown the government for border security, Chuck. Because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”

Democrats refused to approve packaging the border wall funding with spending bills, although they did offer $1.6 billion for border security funding that could not be used for a wall. President Trump refused any such deal and refused to sign a stopgap funding bill passed by the Republican majority Senate on Dec. 19.

Due to 75 percent of government funding being approved for the budget year that started in October, the shutdown is considered a partial one. Multiple cabinet departments are among the 25 percent that will go unfunded; including Homeland Security, Interior, Justice and Transportation. Programs like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are also affected by the lack of funding, leaving thousands of government workers furloughed and currently without paychecks. 

Choi Halladay, vice president of Administrative Services at Pierce, said that it is “fortunate” that the department of Education is among the 75 percent of already funded Departments.

“Many of the things we do here at Pierce are also funded locally and through the state,” Halladay said, and added that he was not aware of any non-payment issues regarding financial aid. However, he did say that there could be “crossover effects between departments” if programs continue to go unfunded. 

As for professors and other staff members, Halladay said that payroll is also unaffected. “What is more likely to affect staff at Pierce are personal problems caused through the shutdown of other departments, especially the IRS, as tax season approaches and people are unable to get their tax returns.”

Aiden Helt is Pierce’s current Student Life Activities Board Issues and Awareness Coordinator. She also receives aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as the Food Stamp Program. SNAP is a federal aid program administered through the Department of Agriculture, one of the cabinet departments going without funding. It provides food-purchasing assistance for U.S. citizens who meet certain low income and resource requirements. 

The White House / Courtesy Photo

Due to the government shutdown, food benefits that would normally be received by recipients this month were distributed weeks earlier, with no announced plan for March. Helt said she normally gets benefits in the beginning of each month, but received February’s benefits on Jan. 20. “I was told if the shutdown continued, there wouldn’t be any more after that,” she said.

Helt, who lives in a household of six, said that she generally uses up her SNAP benefits roughly halfway through every month and afterwards relies on personal funds. She stated that if she does not receive aid after this month, she could potentially be unable to afford enough food to support her family. 

Because of her closeness to the issue, Helt expressed empathy with other students on forms of federal aid affected by the government shutdown. She encouraged students with problems affording food, whether it be due to the government shutdown or other reasons, to take advantage of community food banks and the food pantry outside the Student Life office.

“We just felt the need to get out there and do something.””

— Nani Hazard, TRiO Presentation Manager

“Though donations to our food pantry are usually down at this time of year due to people recovering from holiday season spending, I know food banks in the community are receiving more donations because people know others are having trouble due to the shutdown,” Helt said.

Helt said that this month, Pierce will also be implementing a “food truck” that will visit both the Fort Steilacoom and Puyallup campuses two days a week, one day for each campus. The truck will be like a “mobile food bank” that operates similarly, and is funded partially through the Student Life budget and donations.

Nani Hazard, the TRiO Presentation Manager, talked about how she and roughly 20 Pierce students are volunteering at the Emergency Food Network (EFN), a Pierce County organization with the stated mission “to provide Pierce County with a consistent, diverse and nutritious food supply so that no person goes hungry.”

Hazard stated that she sent the email out to students asking for volunteers to join her after hearing about how the government shutdown would affect those on benefits like SNAP.  “We just felt the need to get out there and do something,” she said.

Currently, the government has been restored to normal operations for at least three weeks after President Trump backed down and signed a stopgap spending bill on Jan. 25.  The bill included none of the border wall budget money the president originally demanded, and was essentially the same proposal the democrats had advocated for in December and since.

 In a speech in the Rose Garden, President Trump indicated that he was willing to shut the government down again if democrats and Republicans could not  reach an agreement by the February deadline, or declare a national emergency over border security and bypass Congress altogether.