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Michael Tinson, a Dominican University senior who finished most of his coursework last semester, only needs a few more credits and an internship to complete his bachelor’s degree in communications. What’s stopping him right now is additional student aid. 

Tinson is eligible to receive Monetary Assistance Program, or MAP grant, funding. When he was enrolled full-time at Dominican, Tinson received MAP assistance, which meant an extra $4,000 to $5,000 a year to help cover tuition.

But now, Tinson may not have access to that state aid to finish up the last stretch of his college studies. The MAP grant funds, which are distributed to lower-income students, haven’t been handed out yet for the fall semester and may not be available to students at all for the winter semester. 

Many colleges throughout the state approved MAP grant funds for this fall semester, despite the absence of a budget, in the hopes that the money will be approved in the near future. They may not be so gracious going into the winter semester, putting at least 120,000 college students across the state who rely on MAP grants in a serious bind. 

“Universities and colleges have by and large taken it on face for the first semester but there’s no telling what will happen in the second semester,” said state Sen. Don Harmon (D-39th), who described MAP grants as the “great equalizer.” 

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner put forth a fiscal year 2016 budget that allocated $373 million to MAP funding, which was equal to the fiscal 2015 appropriation. Democrats in the house, however, increased the funding to $397 million in a separate MAP grant funding bill, which Rauner vetoed. 

State Republicans and Democrats have been locked in a stalemate over the budget for nearly a year, with the governor tying his approval of a budget to a number of pro-business reforms that are considered nonstarters for most Democrats in Springfield. Those proposed reforms include enacting term limits for state lawmakers, putting in place a property tax freeze and establishing empowerment zones that would severely limit the bargaining power of state unions.

Democratic lawmakers say Rauner’s demands should be negotiated separately from a budget agreement, which is more about funding the state’s day-to-day expenses and services that are vital to average residents. 

“At the end of the day, he’s not getting his turnaround agenda and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get minimum wage or MAP increases or anything else we want,” said state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th). “So why don’t we just stick with what’s on the table now to be funded. It makes no sense that we don’t.”

“We could have a budget in a few days if the governor were willing to talk about it,” Harmon said. “The governor chose to veto the map grant budget bill as a standalone bill. There’s really no excuse for that. We’re not going to cave to extreme demands that will hurt the people we represent in order to get a budget.”

In May, Tinson went with a group of students from Dominican to Springfield in order to lobby state legislators to keep MAP funding intact. Considering the funding’s still perilous condition, Tinson said he and his peers would have done some things differently in the state’s capital.

“If we were to go down their now, I think one of the things we’d do differently is try to see every legislator. We’d try to talk with more of them and have more of them hear our stories,” he said.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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