By LYDIA BERGLAR
The federal government has avoided a shutdown for the time being. The United States House of Representatives and the Senate passed a short-term spending bill and President Biden signed the bill a few hours before the October 1 deadline. However, this bill only funds the government through November 17, and with politicians in disagreement on major spending questions (such as aid for Ukraine), November may find us in the same situation.
Overall in Dade County, the impact of a government shutdown would be minimal, but the county’s 261 WIC participants are most likely to be impacted.
The most recent shutdown was in December 2018 extending into early 2019. Lasting for 34 days, it was the longest in American history. Of this shutdown, County Executive Ted Rumley said, “We didn’t feel it at all. You get to some of the larger counties, and it could affect them because they have more federal programs.”
Rumley explained that a long-lasting shutdown could impact federal grants the county would otherwise potentially receive, but even a month-long shutdown should not impact Dade.
In a September 25 article titled “Which federal programs would be impacted first in a government shutdown,” ABC News reported, “The vast majority of the government will actually carry on as usual during a government shutdown. That’s because only 27% of federal spending is considered ‘discretionary,’ and requires annual approval from Congress. The other three-fourths of the government is considered ‘mandatory’ and will continue as usual.”
The article mentioned two specific programs that might be impacted: “Up to 10,000 children could lose access to Head Start, the federal program for preschool children from low-income families, in a shutdown. Also, a $150 million contingency fund for a program that helps feed 7 million women, infants and children (WIC) would likely dry up within a few days.”
However, Paula Bacon, CEO for the Family Resource Agency, reported that our regional Head Start programs will not be impacted in the short-term. She explained, “Currently, it should not affect our regional program because we are on a different funding cycle. The new budget starts on October 1, but our program’s funding cycle started September 1, using money from 2023. We would not be using 2024 funds until next September, so we shouldn’t have any kind of shutdown unless it lasts for a long time.”
The Sentinel also reached out to the Division of Family & Children Services. Before the current bill passed, Kylie Winton, communications director for the Georgia Department of Human Services, reported, “We are assessing the potential impact and developing mitigation strategies to help ensure program continuity, where possible, in the event of a federal government shutdown. Here’s what we know so far: If the federal government shuts down, October SNAP benefits will not be affected. However, a shutdown that’s not resolved by November could result in SNAP clients experiencing a delay in their November benefit issuance.”
As ABC reported, WIC (which is administered through the Department of Public Health) would be impacted. District WIC Nutrition Service Director Cicely Thomas reported, “The Georgia Department of Public Health anticipates three weeks of funding for WIC participant food benefits if the federal government shuts down on October 1. We are actively monitoring developments in Washington, D.C. and will continue to evaluate potential impacts to the WIC program.”
The department reported that Dade County has 261 WIC participants. The office wrote, “Georgia WIC improves the health of families by providing nutritious foods, health education, breastfeeding support, and referrals to health care. WIC is a free program available to pregnant women, breastfeeding moms, and parents or guardians who are the sole provider of children under age five and meet the income and nutritional requirements.”
The only other aspect of Dade County that would immediately be affected by a government shutdown is Limestone Valley RC&D. Stephen Bontekoe explained that although he is not a federal employee, the county has a federal grant which covers the federal portion of his job. However, other parts of his job are not related to federal programs, nor is his position entirely funded by the federal grant.
Bontekoe explained, “In the event of a government shutdown, I would not be authorized to assist people with federal programs during that period. However, the conservation programs that Dade County and Limestone Valley provide would continue, and I am more than happy to assist people under those authorizations. I will still be at work, and we will still help Dade County citizens, but we’ll do it through other programs.”