Shutdown hitting closer to home

Published 10:03 am Friday, October 11, 2013

FRANKLIN—Consequences of the federal government shutdown are trickling down into the local level, while officials in Washington, D.C., continue to debate it.

People in the local area have been furloughed, but the residents that The Tidewater News reached out to felt restricted in commenting.

Franklin City Manager Randy Martin said that most of the city departments will not be affected, or they will be minimally affected. But the Department of Social Services will be the most impacted, he said.

The department is expected to make it through October, said Alan Hogge, director.

Should the shutdown move into November, however, Hogge said that decisions would have to be made about the availability of benefits and services.

“Sadly, the citizens who are in need of our benefits are not able to maintain from month to month without the assistance provided,” he said. “The assistance programs that are determined by the local department seek to meet basic needs based on the various criteria of each program, and do not provide enough assistance to last past the month of assistance.”

Specifically, Medicaid has been forward funded until the end of December. So, unless the shutdown lasts beyond the year, Medicaid should not be affected, Hogge said.

Of Temporary Aid for Needy Families, he said it’s anticipated that prior year grant balances will sustain the program during a short-term shutdown.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is not forward funded, but Hogge said that federal partners said the program might also continue through a short-term shutdown.

Also, he said, effective Nov. 1, SNAP allotments will decrease 5.4 percent due to the sunset of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Congress is also debating on cutting the program another 4 to 5 percent going forward while debating the farm bill.

“These cuts will have a significant impact on our citizens who rely on those supplemental funds for food,” he said.

Virginia has also given Hogge the go-ahead to continue with the heating and energy assistance programs.

As far as heating, the funds are not normally distributed to distributors until after January, and Hogge said the appropriations should be settled by then. Other energy assistance programs are not active, but they may be affected, he said.

Regarding Child Care Assistance, Hogge said it is expected that Virginia will use prior-year funds to maintain the program during a short-term shutdown.

All potential prior-year fund balances are not in the locality, but rather with the commonwealth, so he said the department does not have local discretion for assistance programs.

“The local Department of Social Service is doing everything we can to provide the assistance and determination that we can, but we will be limited by the availability of funds as allowed by the federal government,” Hogge said. “All citizens need to be informed and knowledgeable about the effect of the ongoing shutdown as well as the approaching debt ceiling limits. Both of these issues will have a great impact on all of our citizens.”

He said residents are encouraged to contact their representatives in Congress to share their concerns. Hogge also said that people should watch out for each other more in this time.

“We all should be more mindful of our neighbors and their needs and how we each may be impacted by the government shutdown,” he said. “As the shutdown continues, the probability that more and more of us will be impacted in some way increases.”