Connecticut’s poor most likely to feel shutdown impact first

Washington – Connecticut’s poorest and neediest citizens are likely to feel the sting of a federal government shutdown before most of the rest of the state’s population.

Connecticut receives more than $1 billion each year for federal nutrition programs (from food stamps to school breakfasts), more than $2.5 billion from Washington to run Medicaid, the government-run health program for the poor, and more than $500 million for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the official name for the state’s welfare program. Millions of dollars more are provided from the federal government for home heating assistance, nutrition programs for seniors, Head Start pre-school education and grants to health clinics that serve the uninsured.

If Congress does not find a way to continue to fund the federal government after the end of the federal fiscal year –- midnight on Monday -– states will stop receiving funds for these poverty programs.

And with Congress at an apparent stalemate, expectations the government would shut down grew steadily Monday with the ticking of the clock. 

Just hours before the likely shutdown, however, Connecticut officials did not know how much the state has in leftover funds to run all programs that are funded in wholly or in part by the federal government.

“We’re in the process of trying to figure that out,” said Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs for Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management. “We know the agencies have some carryover funds, but we don’t know how much.”

Casa said Gov. Dannel Malloy planned to meet with state officials Monday afternoon to discuss fiscal affairs.  In addition, all state agencies have been asked to come up with contingency plans by Tuesday.

After the state determines how much federal money it has for dozens of poverty programs it administers, the big question becomes the length of a shutdown and whether the available funds be enough to carry the state in the crisis is resolved. 

“The duration of the shutdown will have a big impact [on program operations] ,” Casa said.

Connecticut may have received an advanced appropriation for Medicaid. But one state Head Start program will start feeling money pinch Tuesday.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, serves about 58,000 Connecticut residents and is funded entirely from Washington.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health expects to have an assesment of teh impact of a shutdown on that program in the next few days. The agency also has a contingency plan which included referring WIC clients to community based programs and services, including food pantries.

“The uncertainty of the situation makes it difficult for everyone,“ said Lucy Nolan,

“It certainly is confusing to those who want benefits but don't know if they can get them. Chances are, once someone thinks she or he will be or is denied, they don't come back,” Nolan said. “Moms who depend on WIC  won't be able to get it, and it's not only the food that it affects, but their health”

Nolan also said supermarkets in Connecticut would also feel the loss, hurting the state economy.  

“These programs bring a lot of money into the state, money that goes right back into the communities that need it most.  It's not like people are sitting on their [food stamps] and WIC benefits saving up for a rainy day,” she said.

So far, one Head Start preschool program in Connecticut is likely to be affected if the federal government shuts down, said a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Ken Wolfe, the agency's spokesman, said that it will be up to that local preschool to figure out how to cope with the loss of funding. The next batch of payments for the preschool programs that enroll children from low-income families is scheduled for Nov. 1.

It is unclear what a shutdown would mean for for Temporary Assistance for Needy families, the state's welfare program. Wolfe said that most states typically have reserve funds that can help in the short-term until the situation is resolved. Last year, however, Connecticut had no reserves at the close of the fiscal year.

Funding for the state's foster care system will not be affected by the shutdown, Wolfe added.

Initially, Connecticut’s federal workers will stop receiving paychecks, even as some of them continue to work as “essential employees” to keep the airports open, inspect the nation’s food supply and protect against threats to life or property.

There are an estimated 9,000 federal workers in Connecticut: 2,625 working for the Pentagon alone, mostly at Naval Submarine Base New London.

Another 1,914 military personnel work in Connecticut. They would continue on the job but receive IOUs from the government for their work if a government shutdown continues past Oct. 15.

Social Security, Medicare and  veterans’ health care will continue during a shutdown because they are entitlements that are protected from Congress’ inaction.

But a federal shutdown, especially if it’s long in duration, would affect nearly everyone, from  the state’s farmers to its schoolchildren.

For example, Connecticut’s Farm Service Agency office would be entirely shutdown starting Tuesday and all 16 employees would be furloughed, required to leave their laptops, iPads and cellphones behind.

The agency said it had caught up on much of what it has been working on, so insurance programs and loan matters -– the bulk of what the office handles -– are pretty much up-to-date.

Going forward, however, farmers who need a loan or want to file for a crop loss would find their applications delayed.

Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Services receives more than 25 percent of its budget from Washington -- 188 agency employees are paid with federal funds. DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said the agency is working with OPM and the governor's office to determine the impact of a shutdown.

"Longer is definitely worse," Schain said.

In Connecticut’s federal courts, the shutdown would curtail or postpone civil cases, but would not affect criminal cases for at least 10 days. If the shutdown continues beyond that, judiciary officials say they will reassess the situation for criminal cases around Oct. 15.

Meanwhile, the state’s only federal prison, the Federal Correctional Institution for women in Danbury would not be affected by the shutdown

According to the Congressional Research Service, there have been 17 federal government shutdowns since 1977. Most lasted three days or less.

But  the last shutdown lasted three weeks, from Dec. 16, 1995, through Jan. 5, 1996.

Mirror reporters Grace Merritt, Jan Ellen Spiegel and Jaqueline Rabe Thomas and  Arielle Levin Becker contributed to this report.

 

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