By Danielle Richardson
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa – As of Friday October 17, Pennsylvania will be more than 100 days without a state budget. This spells bad news for the public schools and nonprofit human service organizations that rely on the state’s funding to operate.
Penn State’s Office of Student Aid released a statement on their website regarding the impasse: “The budget impasse affects not only Penn State, but also other higher education institutions throughout the Commonwealth. We are committed to ensuring that no student who receives a Pennsylvania State Grant is harmed financially while the state budget is finalized.”
Unfortunately, many students rely on those funds to cover living expenses such as rent, groceries, and other such necessities.
Kylie Kinlough is a junior chemical engineering major at Penn State and was formerly a student at the New Kensington campus. She said things have been stressful for her because of the impasse. “Rent is $400, but it’s a lot to pay every month when I’m only earning half that from work study,” Kinlough said. “The state grant was supposed to cover these expenses and be there in case I needed it.”
Elon Ford, a freshman engineering major, is going through a similar struggle. “I haven’t received my refund, which is putting me on edge. That is what I use to pay my rent.” Ford said that if she didn’t have her job in the Academic and Career Success Center, she wouldn’t be able to afford groceries either.
As the Assistant Director for Financial Aid on the Penn State New Kensington (PSNK) campus, Jennifer Marino knows all too well the financial struggles that the students are facing. “Quite a few students who are relying on the state grants for refunds are not getting that money,” Marino said. She explained that the campus does not have the funds to disperse the grant money that the students are entitled to. “It’s putting some students in difficult positions,” she explained.
One of those students who is feeling the pressure is Ryan Long, a junior communications major. “I have been waiting on my refund for months now. I rely on that money to pay for my gas and textbooks,” Long said.
Long says he finds it most disturbing that the human service organizations are the ones who are not receiving funding. “They are being closed down now because they can’t afford to operate. They don’t have a resort. If they did, it was through loans. Eventually loans run out,” Long said. “A lot of organizations rely on state funding. The fact that the impasse has stretched into October is ridiculous.”
Long expressed his frustration about the lack of funding in regards to those whom are truly in need. “Billions of dollars are sitting there while the rest of us are struggling; the public schools, homeless shelters, women’s shelters. It’s not right.”
For those students in desperate need, Marino said that Penn State New Kensington can provide a cash advance to cover their costs. “They can’t wait for the unknown date that the state comes to an agreement on the budget. What we can do for these students is offer a short-term, interest-free loan that they receive within a week.”
As for now there does not seem to be an end in sight. Schools and other nonprofits continue to borrow and students continue to wait.
“We’re all waiting,” Ford explained.