Penn State Helps Students While State Budget Impasse Withholds Aid
December 11, 2015 6:00 AM
by Zach Berger
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The effects of the state budget impasse are being seen throughout Pennsylvania, especially in the education sector.

A handful of western Pennsylvania school districts might stay closed after Christmas break.

Schools statewide have borrowed almost $1 billion to survive the budget stalemate.

And at Penn State, students counting on state grant money for student aid won't receive those funds until there's a budget, leaving the university to foot the bill in the mean time.

According to a press release from the Penn State Office of Student Aid, there won't be any state grant funds for students until a budget is passed. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency typically disburses those funds to help pay tuition -- or other expenses like books and housing if a student has a full scholarship -- but it can't dole out any money without a state budget to fund the agency.

Keith New, a spokesperson for the PHEAA, told WPSU that it's up to individual schools to determine how they'll handle the situation as they await a state budget. 

"The schools have an idea of what they can expect when the funds arrive, but each school has to decide how they're going to handle the delay based on their own resources," New said.

Penn State has decided to allocate funds to the students' bursar accounts temporarily, essentially acting as a placeholder until the actual state grant aid can be disbursed. Approximately 15,000 Penn State students were expecting a total of $26 million in state aid before an e-mail from the university informed them of an outstanding balance on their account.

That e-mail, which went out automatically, was not meant to ask the students to take on the burden of paying the gap in their tuition caused by the budget impasse. The university will front that money in the mean time, and a message is on the Office of Student Aid's website explaining the situation.

"Students may notice PA State Grant funds appearing as a credit on the bill but not disbursing into the student bursar account," the office says. "If you have been awarded a PA State Grant and are expecting a refund, you could be impacted by this funding delay."

"We are committed to ensuring that no student who receives a Pennsylvania State Grant is harmed financially while the state budget is finalized," the office adds. "Once the Pennsylvania state budget is passed, final state grant award amounts will be determined and funds will be released."

The budget, which is now 163 days late as it originally had a June 30 due date, is still being worked on by state legislators. Governor Tom Wolf is pushing for a tax increase that would fund increased education spending, but state Republicans are fighting him and his party on that and plenty more.

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