Federal shutdown hits home
The impacts of the federal government shutdown are already being felt at the county level with news that all Work First checks have been suspended.
“We’re not getting the money, so we can’t sent the checks,” said Ira Dove, Haywood County Department of Social Services director.
The next looming cut off could well be the $250,000 in childcare subsidies that flow into the county monthly. This will impact 392 families and 586 children, along with the child care centers counting on the income to pay employees.
“We know the September childcare costs are covered, but don’t know how long the funds will last for October,” Dove said, calling this the “most vulnerable program” as far as being impacted next.
Depending on how much is left over in the state coffers for this program, parents could abruptly learn the $300 to $500 a month that helped them pay for childcare as they held down a job would cease.
Work First, a program that most closely resembles the traditional welfare check of years past, now requires recipients to work, receive training or other education to keep the funds coming. Less than 75 in Haywood receive help through this program, a number “that’s probably a lot lower than most people imagine,” Dove said.
Benefits range from $236 a month for a family of two to $324 for a family of five.
No new applications for the Work First program are being accepted in Haywood. About 45 applications were processed in September, but not all were approved, Dove said.
Since the Work First funds are part of a federal grant that stopped when Congress failed to pass a budget or provide a way to keep the federal dollars flowing, the county had little choice but to stop payments.
Dove referenced a letter sent by the deputy director of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services advising counties which federal block grants would not be available for the state to pass along to counties. These included not only temporary assistance and childcare funding, but also all funds for the home heating program.
The letter advised local social service directors that unless their county was in a position to cover the costs of continuing the federal programs, steps should be taken to reduce service levels, freeze hiring and even furlough employees.
“The state chose to furlough staff to allow money to filter down to those providing direct services,” Dove said, noting there could be enough funds to carry some programs through October. “But that’s it. If this carries into November, you will see many things impacted locally.”
Dove has briefed the county manager and his board about the situation, and made the decision to stop taking new applications for Work First, postpone filling vacant positions and eliminate travel.
Local social services departments receive about 50 percent of their funding from the federal government.
The budget impasse that’s’ led to the shutdown does not impact the Medicaid, food and nutrition, foster care or child support enforcement programs.