Pending a resolution, MAP grants remain at risk

State budget battle endangers financial aid

Pending a resolution, MAP grants remain at risk

Cole Moriarty, Features Reporter

The state government of Illinois does not have a budget. Months past the point at which the General Assembly and Governor Bruce Rauner were to have enacted a budget, they have failed to do so; now, across the state, government buildings may go dark because they can’t pay the electricity bill, the training of new police officers has been halted, and on college campuses across the state, some financial aid programs are not being supplied with funds.

Until the state passes a budget, they won’t be.

As a result, Monetary Assistance Program – or MAP grants – given to college students most in need have not been paid out for the current fall semester, and will not be paid out until a budget has been passed allocating the funds, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), the agency in charge of administering MAP grants.

Since many state agencies cannot spend funds in the absence of a budget, the ISAC will continue to review applications, but funds will not be forthcoming.

MAP grants have been around for about 50 years, and the MAP Advising Working Group (part of ISAC) called it “one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind in the country” in a report from February 2014.

The report further notes, “[MAP grants provide] significant financial assistance crucial to year-to-year retention, program completion and graduation, and manageable student debt levels for about 140,000 students from lower-income families attending Illinois postsecondary institutions.”

Each year, students like Michelle Haberstroh, a junior communications major with a minor elementary education, receive awards from state MAP grants. Haberstroh relies on MAP and Pell Grants (federal financial aid) to help cover the cost of her education at UIS, in addition to working a full-time job at Silver Leaf Day Care and another job part time.

Haberstroh says, “I wouldn’t come to school without either of the grants, I would just stick with my full time job to pay the bills. I’m at school for free right now, I have no way of coming to school if I didn’t have that.”

Or Michael Dahmane, a senior legal studies major, who this year attends UIS part time. He relayed, “It would be very difficult to attend without [a MAP grant]; if I did not get it, I would probably still be here, but I would be forced to seek alternative loan measures.”

Dahmane plans on applying to law school, but worries that, without MAP grants, he may not be able to afford it after the cost of finishing his current degree.

Grants are paid from the ISAC directly to colleges and universities to cover the cost of tuition and other fees. Awards are made in the spring of each year based on information collected from Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), meaning MAP grants for the current semester were awarded months ago. These awards have not yet been paid.

When asked, neither Michelle Haberstroh nor Michael Dahmane were previously aware of that fact.

For the time being, universities including UIS have agreed to cover the cost of the MAP grants in anticipation of a budget being passed and those awards being disbursed. That may not last if the impasse extends into next year.

State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, a Democrat, has been campaigning across the state on behalf of MAP grants, and held a press conference at UIS and broadcasted by WUIS on Sept. 22 in which he said, “I’ve spoken with presidents at other college campuses, other university campuses around the state, and they have told me in no uncertain terms – we cannot do this in the second semester. That will have to stop.”

In his budget proposal, Governor Rauner allocated $373 million dollars to MAP. The allocation in the budget sent to the governor by the General Assembly for $397 million was vetoed, along with the vast majority of the budget.

Senate Bill 2043, proposed by the Democrats and championed by Frerichs, would fund MAP at $373 million for the 2016 fiscal year (which started on July 1, 2015).

SB 2043 has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House of Representatives, but Richard Goldberg, deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs for the Governor released a written statement saying, “Absent proposals from the majority to reduce spending and balance the budget, SB 2043 would simply pave the way for more debt or higher taxes – and Governor Rauner would veto it,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

When asked about the current uncertainty regarding MAP grants, Haberstroh says, “I mean, what am I supposed to do about it? Like what can I do about it in the long run, I’m just an individual and I’m like, ‘that sucks.’ I’ll have to deal with it when it comes.”