Affects of the Shutdown: Uncertainties abound

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, January 17, 2019
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Photo courtesy U.S. Census, U.S. Bureau of Labor
Montana is one of the top states affected by the shutdown for a combination of factors.

It is approaching week 4 of the government shutdown. It may come as a surprise that Montana is one of the top states affected by the closures. Although it may not be in the top ten, it's number 12. The top ten states affected are as follows in order: D.C., New Mexico, Maryland, Hawaii, Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alaska and Arizona.

The main reason Montana is affected is due to an abundance of federal workers. It also has abundant national parks providing services and includes a smaller population using federal food assistance. Washington, D.C., and the States of Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon. and Louisiana that receive the most SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Plan).  

It is notable that 78 percent of American workers live paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 report by employment website CareerBuilder. Women are particularly vulnerable: 81 percent of them live paycheck to paycheck, compared with 75 percent of men.

One Carbon County woman said, “It’s horrible. I don’t think anybody realizes how close it hits home unless you have a family member who receives these benefits and desperately needs them.”

She is a grandmother and deeply concerned for her daughter, a single parent, with three children, aged 3, 2 and three months. “She gets all her groceries from SNAP,” the woman said. “She gets her special formula for the baby from WIC (Women, Infants and Children).” She explained, “He is allergic and a can (of formula) lasts less than a week at over $30!” 

Her daughter works full time. “But what can you get on $9 an hour?” she asks. It covers her rent, her utilities and gas. The grandmother works two jobs and just gets by.

“They said there will be a partial SNAP payment if it continues through February,” the grandmother said.  SNAP pays out once a month. She does not know what her daughter will do and she has her own health needs. Even Medicaid is a worry. “My daughter has Medicaid for her all her family’s health needs.” The 3-year-old had two ear tube events and a tonsillectomy. “My daughter needed two MRI’s and will need follow-ups for her own care,” she added. She worries where the money will come from.

Barbara Shneeman, VP of Communications for Riverstone Health noted, “We anticipate WIC funds being available through February. As the situation changes we will keep our participants apprised.” In fact, the MT DPHHS announced on Wednesday, Jan. 16, “Due to the partial federal government shutdown, your February SNAP benefits will be available on your EBT card on January 17, 2019. These benefits are intended for use in February. You will not receive additional benefits in the month of February.” 

(See Box for further details on shutdown).

Even higher incomes in the U.S. are struggling. CareerBuilder reports that nearly 10 percent of Americans with salaries of $100,000 or more live paycheck to paycheck as well.

One Red Lodge parent of four grown children, all with their own health needs, worries as well. Her husband, the sole wage earner, is now retired. “My daughter called regarding her health insurance application,” she said this week. “There seems to be a slow down in processing. No one in charge could tell her what was happening with her application.” She worries about deadlines but has not received any reassurances.

Savings are not a usual part of financial planning for most families. Over 50 percent of Americans surveyed by Career Builders, save less than $100 per month. More Americans could not go six months on those savings. More than 70 percent of all respondents say that they're in debt, and a quarter of workers say they weren't able to make ends meet at the end of every month of the past year.

Senator Jon Tester said on Wednesday, Jan. 9, on the U. S. Senate floor, “There is a crisis taking shape in our country, but it’s not on the southern border. As a result of the President’s shutdown, hardworking Americans are being forced to secure our country’s borders, ports, and airports without knowing when their next paycheck will arrive.”

Dozens of federal agencies remain closed and more than 800,000 workers aren’t getting paid as a result of the longest shutdown in American history. Tester said, “With over 14,000 federal employees, numerous Tribal Nations, and two of the busiest National Parks in the country, Montana has been one of the states hit hardest by the shutdown. 

“The dysfunction of this administration is causing real turmoil in the lives of thousands of Montanans and their families,” Tester said. “It’s time to reopen the government and put an end to this crisis.” Tester, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped write the legislation that the Senate passed last month to fund the government and provide over a billion dollars to secure the southern border.

He said, “Last Thursday, January 10th, the Senate tried multiple times to bring the House-passed budget bills to the Senate floor for a vote.  These bills would have ended the government shutdown and reopened all of the agencies currently shutdown. That bill was blocked from receiving a vote on the Senate floor by Senator Mitch McConnell.”

Tester said he is continuing to work with both parties towards a solution to end the unnecessary government shutdown.

He told CCN, “The dysfunction of this administration is causing real turmoil in the lives of thousands of Montanans and their families.  Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate already passed legislation to reopen the government and secure our borders.  It's time to reopen the government and put an end to this crisis." 

Senator Steve Daines’ office said, “Senator Daines believes Congress can do both: fund the government and secure our borders. The Senator believes both sides need to come together and reach a deal. The Senator will continue to push legislation that holds members of Congress accountable for the political games being played in DC right now, and he will work to prevent any future government shutdowns.”

Daines introduced (with Senator Rob Portman and others who tried this bill since 2010 without its passing) the End Government Shutdowns Bill and a bill to stop Congress’ pay during the shutdown. 

Schools are affected.  According to Education Week, “The biggest concern right now is the National School Lunch Program, which is administered through the Department of Agriculture and served more than 30 million children in 2016. The USDA said that it has enough money for reimbursements for the program, which provides free-and-reduced-price lunches to low-income children, through March.”

Asked what she thinks about a border wall, the Carbon County grandmother says, “I could care about a wall. Where there’s a will, there’s a way-do you really think it’s going to stop anybody?”

She reflects, “I think we need to focus more on our own people. Shutting and stopping the Department of Agriculture (source of the above food assistance programs)-how are you helping your people? You’re not! You’re just creating a family crisis! It’s not just the young, it’s the elderly, too.”



Nutrition Assistance Programs under a Lapse in Appropriations


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

USDA will use the authority under the last Continuing Resolution to issue February benefits. The Continuing Resolution that expired Dec. 21, 2018 provided an appropriation for programs like SNAP and Child Nutrition to incur obligations for program operations during the 30 day-period following the expiration of the Act.

States will need to take action to issue February benefits on or before Jan. 20, 2019. Once these early issuances are made, the February benefits will be made available to SNAP participants at that time.  SNAP monthly issuance for February is estimated to be approximately $4.8 billion and State administrative expense (SAE) is estimated at about $350 million for a total need of approximately $5.1 billion.

Child Nutrition Programs

For these programs, including school meals and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, States already have funding to cover CN program operations for the month of January (approximately $2.1 billion) on the basis of the last continuing resolution.

This week, we will provide an additional two months’ worth of funding, consistent with the standard practice of funding these programs on a quarterly basis.

Supplemental Nutrition and Safety Programs

For WIC, FNS has identified resources to cover projected State expenditures for February. The agency will allocate at least $248 million to State agencies this week, and we have identified an additional $350 million in unspent prior year funds to allocate at a later date. A total of approximately $600 million in funding will be provided to WIC State agencies. We will continue to work with States to make resources available to the extent possible.

For the WIC Farmers’ Market (FMNP) and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs (SFMNP), FNS does not anticipate significant operational impacts as they are seasonal benefit programs with annual grant funds.

For the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), food deliveries planned for February will continue.  Due to the lapse, States have not received their 2019 caseload assignments, so CSFP-participating States must operate at 2018’s caseload levels.  Similarly, states have received no additional administrative funds since the lapse, and none can be made available until the lapse ends.

For The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), food deliveries planned for February (including entitlement, bonus and trade mitigation) will continue.  States have received no additional administrative funds since the lapse, and none can be made available until the lapse ends.

For the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), food deliveries planned for February will continue. FDPIR programs have administrative funding through Jan. 31 and are expected to operate the program.