Local impact could grow
MARSHALL — With a partial government shutdown now on its 22nd day, the questions about what it means for area residents are becoming more urgent.
At United Community Action Partnership, executive Director Nancy Straw said the organization was taking stock of how the shutdown, and a lapse in federal funding, could possibly affect people seeking everything from food and housing assistance to tax preparation.
“We started to get information yesterday,” from national community action organizations, Straw said. “It’s a real mixed bag.” For example, she said, funding for Head Start programs isn’t affected by the shutdown, but the program that funds meals and snacks for Head Start is.
While UCAP is continuing to provide services across a nine counties in southwest Minnesota, Straw said the longer the shutdown continues, the more it could potentially affect them.
The partial government shutdown, which started Dec. 22, affects several federal agencies. The list includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice, the Department of Transportation, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Internal Revenue Service, and more. Overall, around 420,000 federal employees are working without pay, and 380,000 have been furloughed.
But the shutdown doesn’t just affect federal employees — it also affects the people federal agencies and programs serve.
Locally, agriculture has been a major area affected by the shutdown. County offices for the USDA Farm Service Agency closed after Dec. 28 due to a lapse in federal funding. In Marshall, a sign posted on the door of the Lyon County FSA Service Center office said employees were furloughed.
The partial shutdown also impacts the USDA’s Market Facilitation Program, which provides payments to producers of crops affected by tariffs, like soybeans. Shutdown information posted on the FSA’s website said farmers who already applied for the MFP and certified their 2018 production by Dec. 28 received payments. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also extended the deadline for farmers to apply for the program. The original deadline was Jan. 15, but farmers haven’t been able to apply since Dec. 28.
The FSA said the lapse in federal funding also means farm loan applications aren’t being processed, and commodity loan activity has stopped.
Besides agricultural programs, the USDA also funds food assistance, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which helps pay for Head Start meals. Benefits for those programs are expected to be funded through March. But if the shutdown lasts longer, Straw said it could affect some of UCAP’s clients. UCAP offers Head Start and Early Head Start programs. It also helps people get SNAP benefits, and operates food shelves in four area locations.
Straw said the partial shutdown could possibly raise questions about funding for some UCAP services, depending on how long it lasts.
In the meantime, “We are continuing to operate and provide services,” she said. UCAP leadership will be meeting on Monday, and Straw said they’ll be discussing the state of the shutdown.
Straw said she didn’t know if UCAP had gotten many questions about the shutdown from clients yet.
“Honestly, there are people who aren’t really aware of it,” she said. But that could change as the shutdown lingers.
Schools are another part of local communities that receive federal funding, in addition to state and local funding. Dion Caron, director of business services at Marshall Public Schools, said the district receives federal funding for student nutrition programs, special education, career and technical education, and Title I, Title II and Title III assistance.
Depending on how long the partial government shutdown lasts, it could have an impact on schools, Caron said. On Tuesday, the USDA announced it would plan to provide additional funding for programs including school meals and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. The additional nutrition funding should last through March, Caron said. Other kinds of assistance are forward-funded, meaning money is allocated before the start of the year. The school district can keep operating normally, Caron said. However, if the shutdown were to keep going into March or April, he said it would definitely factor into the district’s financial and budget planning.