Sunday, December 8, 2013
BY ERIC RUSSELL
Portland Press Herald
AND KEVIN MILLER
Washington Bureau Chief
As the federal government shutdown reached Day Two on Wednesday, various state and local agencies that stand to be affected took a business-as-usual approach, saying they hoped the shutdown would not last much longer, but also acknowledging that adequate funding becomes more uncertain the longer the impasse continues.
While furloughs of federal workers and the closure of national parks and monuments have been among the most immediate and visible effects of the shutdown that began Tuesday, the effect will widen if Congress fails to come to an agreement and the shutdown continues for more than a few weeks. The contingency plans for most agencies provide funding for programs for several more weeks.
Health care, food
John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said his department's focus initially is on ensuring that clients get the aid they need in the short term.
The program that would be affected most, he said, is the Women's Infants and Children's nutrition program, known as WIC. Run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, WIC provides supplementary food assistance to income-eligible pregnant women and mothers with dependent children under the age of 5. The income limit is $28,694 for a family of two or $43,568 for a family of four. WIC serves 26,000 clients in Maine, providing them with infant formula, fresh fruit and vegetables and a range of grocery items.
Lisa Burgess Hodgkins, who directs the program, said she expects to have enough money to cover both existing clients and new applicants through the end of November. As for how her agency would respond if that federal money runs out because of a prolonged shutdown, Hodgkins said, "We haven't had those conversations yet. We are hoping that things get resolved before the end of the month."
Medicaid, also known as MaineCare, is not affected. Two other federal subsidy programs -- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps -- are also not expected to see an immediate effect, according to Martins.
But the shutdown is more complex than just subsidy payments. Many state employees are funded, at least partially, with federal dollars.
"We are doing an analysis of our staffing and the potential impact, while looking for federal guidance as to how to proceed," Martins said in an email Wednesday. "Much of this work is based on the timing of grant funding, how much funding we have received from the feds (pre or post shutdown) and what the feds say it can be used for."
Housing, heating, transportation
For MaineHousing, a state agency that oversees a variety of federally funded housing-related programs, the biggest programs that could be affected are the housing subsidy known as Section 8 and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, said public information officer Deborah Turcotte.
Only two days into the shutdown, the information the agency is receiving about how it could be affected is changing.
"Initially, we thought we'd be able to fund Section 8 through the end of December," Turcotte said. "On Tuesday, we learned that payment would be good through October."
Funding for November and December is now up in the air, she said.
Mike Halsey, executive director of the South Portland Housing Authority, said his federally funded programs, including Section 8, are funded on a calendar-year cycle.
"Theoretically, that money is available; but I'm not going to issue checks to landlords until I'm sure," he said.
If landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers are forced to go a month or more without getting payments, they could evict the tenants, Halsey said.
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