The Politics Blog

From child care subsidies to food aid – govt shutdown effect could get more real soon

OlympianOctober 11, 2013 

The ongoing federal government shutdown is starting to tighten the funding noose on a few state run programs in Washington. No one was pushing a panic button Friday, but money could run out at the end of the month for a child care subsidy program that helps 24,000 working families with children 12 or younger in the home. Money for the food stamps program known as SNAP also runs out of cash at the end of October.

Those are among the new potential impacts of the 11-day-old shutdown that were identified in a state agency round-up prepared by the state Office of Financial Management.

The list, released late Friday afternoon, includes many previously reported cuts or reductions in services. For instance, the state Employment Security Department earlier in the week furloughed a quarter of its staff – about 418 people – and put another 415 on half time or 60 percent work schedules. But ESD was using leftover funds to keep enough staff on duty to continue handling jobless claims and getting unemployment benefits paid to workers.

How long money will hold out for jobless benefits is unclear, but Employment Security appears set through the end of the month – if not longer, according to spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison.

The Military Department also furloughed workers but recalled 700 to duty this week. About 75 furloughed agency workers paid by state funds have been converted to a half-time status under what is called a Shared Work Program.

Those are the biggest personnel impacts caused by the federal stalemate over a budget that led to the shutdown on Oct. 1. 

It is unclear how long it may continue. But President Obama and Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner were still talking Friday about ways to end the impasse triggered by new Republican demands last month to delay or halt the Affordable Care Act as part of a budget deal.  

In some cases, the state is using state tax dollars to keep federal programs going. An example is the $500,000 in state funds being used by the Military Department to cover salaries, rent and utility bills in October that would ordinarily be paid by the federal government.

So far, funding for major programs such as Medicaid – the joint state-federal health-care program for the poor – appear safe from funding reductions. Jim Stevenson, spokesman for the Health Care Authority, said Medicaid is an entitlement that qualifies as an emergency service. “We received our first-quarter allotment of funds, so there will be no interruption of Medicaid services for at least three months,” he said.

But many individuals dependent on other state aid could see reduced services late in the month or November.

For example, the Department of Early Learning has limited funds for the Working Connections Child Care program that serves families not receiving welfare, or Temporary Aid to Needy Families benefits.

“We have enough cash in reserve to serve non-TANF Working Connections families through October,” Early Learning spokeswoman Amy Blondin said. “It’s about 24,000 households. We’ll need to be sending out notices to families next week if there is no resolution. We have to give notice.’’

According to OFM, “Without the subsidy, families will need to make some tough choices about where to leave their children while they work. We know anecdotally that some children — especially older children (subsidy can be used for kids up through age 12) — would be left home alone.”

The state’s TANF program that also provides child care benefits, but its child-care subsidies are expected to run out “at the end of January.”

The Department of Health’s Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program also is expected to run out of money at the end of October for the 195,000 pregnant and postpartum women and children it serves.

According to OFM, WIC “provides vouchers for healthy foods, nutrition assistance and health referrals to low-income pregnant/breastfeeding women and their children up to age 5. It also provides breastfeeding support.”

So far, WIC is carrying on using leftover funds from the budget period that ended Sept. 30 and would need to stop providing assistance in November unless it gets more help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, OFM’s summary says.

OFM says other agencies are facing interruptions of service.

At the Department of Agriculture, inspectors that issue federal plant-health certificates for exports are being hampered by the shutdown of some federal agency web sites. These “phytosanitary” certificates are used to confirm that agricultural products meet the requirements of foreign markets for pest control and plant health. OFM’s round-up says that without consistent web updates of the requirements of export customers, shipments could be rejected at a foreign port.

The agency also says its response to reports of diseased animals may be hindered and more time will be needed to respond to animal health emergencies.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board reports it may not be able to issue new licenses for wineries, breweries, distilleries or craft distillers in Washington. That is because it needs approval information from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is closed and is not acting on new license requests or labeling requests.

Stay tuned.

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