Partial government shutdown interrupted student’s food stamps, family members’ jobs

Graduate Student Kenya Hunter said she felt lucky the government partially shutdown on Dec. 22 and not any earlier because coming back home to Georgia for winter break allowed her to conserve food stamps.

“I was going to use my food stamps at home because I am allowed to, but when I heard the government was shutting down, I decided to save them instead,” Hunter said.

Hunter began using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, in fall 2018 when she moved to Boston to study journalism at Emerson. The program did not receive funding during the shutdown since the U.S Department of Agriculture oversees it.

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“This was my first time using food stamps, and I can’t believe the government shut down,” Hunter said. “At home, I’m not poor, but in Boston, I’m poor.”

The longest government shutdown in U.S. history ended on Jan. 25 when President Donald J. Trump signed a bill to temporarily reopen the government for three weeks, or until Feb. 15. The shutdown represented Trump’s latest attempt to force Congress to allocate funds toward building a border wall between the U.S and Mexico.

College officials said financial aid and international student services were not directly impacted by the 35-day shutdown, but some Emerson students and their family members felt the impact of missing paychecks, job uncertainty, and food insecurity.

A video on Twitter shows Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley speaking to reporters in Washington D.C. on Jan. 15 about an unnamed student who, for the first time in her life, felt food insecure because she knew her food stamps were not guaranteed if the shutdown continued into March.  

Pressley spoke about Hunter, who shared her story during the congresswoman’s Community Swearing-In ceremony in January.

“She and I ended up making eye contact. I went up to her and said ‘Please don’t give into a wall. I know I’m not supposed to be doing this—I’m a student journalist, so I’m not here to be political—but I just moved up here from Atlanta. I’m a graduate student, and I’m on food stamps because if I use my own personal money for food, I won’t be able to meet the costs of splitting rent with my roommates,’” Hunter said.

When Pressley asked Hunter if she could use Hunter’s name in Congress, Hunter objected for professional reasons. As a journalist, Hunter said she wanted to maintain an objective presence online. But with the government shutdown lingering, Hunter said she realized she had an important story to tell.

“I decided to come out and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me who Ayanna Pressley is talking about,’” Hunter said.

The USDA worked with states to deliver benefits for February at an earlier time than usual. Hunter said her early benefits for February matched what she normally receives monthly—$153.

In response to the government reopening, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a press release the USDA would work to reestablish services with the thousands of employees back to work in the department. The USDA did not release information on how they will distribute the March benefits if the government shuts down again in February.

Director of Financial Aid Angela Grant said students with a furloughed parent, or parents, would experience the biggest impact from the shutdown.

“In those cases, we encourage students to reach out to my office or the Office of Student Success,” Grant said. “It would be on an individual basis, but if they needed extra time to make a payment or they needed to increase a loan, they could do all of those things with [the college].”

Junior David Fadul’s mother, a federal employee who worked for the U.S. Department of State in foreign services for 28 years, was deemed “excepted” during the 35-day shutdown—meaning she worked without pay.

“I think it is disrespectful for the government to treat someone who has been a dedicated worker for almost three decades as if she joined yesterday,” Fadul said. “In my opinion, it is extremely disrespectful, though I doubt [my mom] would ever say this.”

Fadul said his family was lucky enough to not live paycheck to paycheck, however, he said the shutdown was not easy on his mom.

“The shutdown has definitely caused my mom emotional stress and trauma,” Fadul said. “It’s not normal stress—it’s existential stress of your job not paying you.”

Grant said the shutdown would not affect Emerson students’ financial aid and Federal Work Study benefits.

“Funds are appropriated for those things before the beginning of the year. That is all set up before the school year even starts, and it is all automatic processing. It is not impacted in anyway,” Grant said.

Director of International Student Affairs Andrea Popa said most government services used by international students were not affected by the government shutdown because they are fee-based.

International students use the Department of State Visa and Passport Services and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some USCIS programs were unfunded during the shutdown, but those programs did not directly affect international students, Popa said.

Popa said she was not aware of any international students affected by the shutdown. 

The shutdown came with many uncertainties for students and families, and there is uncertainty over what will happen in Washington on Feb. 15.

Negotiations over border security will continue for the next three weeks as Congress did not agree to allocate money for a wall. In Trump’s press conference announcing the end of the shutdown, he said the government could shut down again if he does not receive a fair deal from Congress by Feb. 15.

“I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” Trump said during the press conference.

Correction, Jan. 28: The headline for this Beacon article previously said “Partial government shutdown interrupted students’ food stamps, family members’ jobs.” We changed the headline to “Partial government shutdown interrupted student’s food stamps, family members’ jobs” to reflect that one student’s food stamps were reportedly affected.

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