State budget delays student aid
Held-up CalGrants wrack student nerves
August 29, 2007 10:37 PM
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature on the state budget August 24 after a 52-day impasse finally secured funding for programs and services Californians rely on — including releasing almost $11 million in grants to thousands of SF State students, Financial Aid officials said.
The signing came just four days before the SFSU campus was set to open for the fall semester, a close call for students who depend on the Cal Grants to pay for housing, textbooks or transportation. At least, registration fees were deferred for those awaiting financial aid at most campuses.
"Decisions can't be made in a timely manner that are affecting people's lives? I don't agree with that," said Barbara Hubler, director of Financial Aid at SF State.
The impasse was caused by the refusal from all 14 of the state's Republican senators—two of which would have been enough—to provide the two thirds majority needed to pass the budget.
But the reason behind the impasse mattered little to Jerome Saddler, a 23-year-old Journalism student who said he relies entirely on financial aid to remain in school. All he knew was that the Cal Grant funds were absent from his bank account.
While the state delayed payments on his grant, what Saddler said mattered to him was the ability to pay his rent on time.
"My landlords needs the money by the first," he said.
In all, 2,836 SF State students waited more than a week after other grants went out before collecting their share of the school's $10,934,141 in Cal Grant funds, Hubler said. Because the length of time it takes to process the checks some students still hadn't received their grants by the time class officially began on Tuesday, Financial Aid officials said.
"What is the state budget?" Hubler said. "It's services, it's going to people, going in the form of support for their education. If the legislature can't work it out people are going to be affected."
While the governor, members of the State Assembly from both parties and Senate democrats voted to approve the budget on three occasions, republican senators held firm until Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R-Tustin) and Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) finally provided the support for the $145 billion budget on August 21.
"Especially in light of the fact that what eventually passed as a budget changed so little, the suffering that was caused seems in vain," said Adam Keigwin, a spokesperson for Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco).
At SF State, one financial aid adviser who did not want to be identified for fear of breaking ranks called legislators "criminals" and "outlaws" for holding up the budget and cutting off services.
While financial aid awards from the federal government, SF State or private institutions were disbursed, the California Student Aid Commission had to withhold Cal Grants to comply with state law, according to spokesperson Yvonne Stewart-Buchen.
"There might have been some delays," said Paul Browning, the media relations specialist for CSU. "But we're glad they will eventually get their funds and hopefully there isn't too much disruption in their education."
It took just one day for SF State's financial aid office to begin disbursing Cal Grants checks after the state budget was signed. A previous e-mail notice sent to grants recipients that it would take approximately two weeks for checks to be mailed out was just a precaution, Hubler said.
Services all over the state suffered from the temporary lack of funds. Over the course of the impasse the state controller's office accumulated more than 60,000 unpaid claims to run hospital, school and childcare programs.
"I am concerned not only about the fiscal hardship the delay has caused many vendor, small businesses and service providers, but also the personal toll on vulnerable Californians," wrote State Controller John Chiang in an August 21 open letter to state department directors, vowing to deal with the backlog within 10 days.
State education officials said that there was a contingency plan in place in the event that the impasse stretched into the semester. Campuses that had the financial resources were to loan out money to students to be repaid using the Cal Grants, Browning said for the CSU.
However, there was no such plan at SF State, according to Wayne Kuhaupt, manager of the school's Fiscal Affairs office which writes checks to student and employees.
"I don't know what we'd do," Kuhaupt said. "We're talking about a lot of money and our campus doesn't have that kind of money lying around."
State legislators have missed the June 30 budget deadline 13 times in the last 20 years, but this was only the second time in Hubler's 10 years working for the school that Cal Grants disbursements were delayed.
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