Federal shutdown now felt at local level County, day cares among those affected

Oct. 09, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

For Andrea McGee, the future of her day care center is in God's hands. 

"It's devastating," the Jireh Child Development Center director said Tuesday. "This is my teachers' livelihoods. This is my livelihood. All we can do is trust God — trust and believe." 

With the federal government shutdown now in its second week, the impact at the county level — primarily the local social services, health and senior services departments — has begun to be felt. Federal subsidies for child and adult day cares will be suspended Friday. New clients for WIC, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, will be placed on a waiting list, and all benefits will be halted beginning today. Nearly 20 county employees are set to be furloughed Monday, and the County of Lee Transit System (COLTS) will be adjusted for budget shortfalls in the coming week, among other program and service cuts to cover the fiscal shortchange.

"Our message to the people is I hope they will be patient," said Lee County Manager John Crumpton. "It's not the county that has the problem of passing a balanced budget. The state and the county have passed a balanced budget."

Services like the Lee County Sheriff's Office, emergency services, fire protection, animal control and environmental health are still in place and will be funded, he said. It's the programs and services for the people who are unable to help themselves that will be impacted, according to Crumpton.

Social Services

Federal subsidies for 484 low-income children in Lee County will be suspended Friday, impacting 47 day care providers, according to Department of Social Services Director Brenda Potts. Low-income, working families receive subsidies that enable parents to pay for child care they'd otherwise not be able to afford, she said. Providers were notified by phone Tuesday, like McGee, and mailings are being sent to parents throughout the week. Without these vouchers, parents may be unable to afford child care, and child care centers may have to close or suspend workers, Potts said.

"If parents can't afford to pay and can't find anyone to watch their kids, they will lose their jobs," McGee said. "Hopefully, they can find someone."

Childcare Network, a national entity with a center based in Sanford, has more than 50 children who receive subsidies, according to the assistant director Nancy Richards. The corporation is allowing the children with the federal vouchers to continue attending until it is no longer able, she said.  

"Our national president has said we are going to try and endure and help as much as we can until we can't," she said. "We've already had one parent call us in tears because they couldn't afford the child care."

Seven individuals receive federal funds for the adult day care program, Potts said, and those services will also be suspended Friday  The affected clients attend Christian Health Care Adult Day Care, and Potts said she's concerned about this significant blow to the local small business.

"They provide a valuable service to individuals in Lee County, and we hope that the community, through fundraisers, can help the business stay in operation," Potts said.

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which include Work First Family Assistance Payments, Work First Employment Services and certain Child Protective Services, all mandated by law, will be reduced if funds are not made available, Potts said.

"We will have to do what we can do," she said. "We will get as much work done as we possibly can, but I can't make any assurances as to the quality."

Health and Senior Services

The WIC program provides food vouchers and counseling to pregnant mothers and children up to the age of 5, and there are 2,100 clients within the county per month, according to Health Director Terrell Jones. In a memo sent from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday, all benefits "issuance will be discontinued for all categories of participants," and new applicants will be wait-listed. Approximately 80 percent of eligible clients already have been issued food benefits for October, according to NCDHHS.

All five of the county WIC employees and two contractors will be furloughed, Jones said.

With more than 30 percent of the funds for the local health department coming from federal dollars, Jones is seeking guidance from the state on which programs to curb or services to alter. Many of the state employees these questions would have been directed to have been furloughed.

Funds for the Senior Services Department will continue until the end of October, Crumpton said, but the department will be cutting back substantially if the shutdown continues, and COLTS will begin reshuffling staff members on Monday to reduce hours because it receives federal funds.

"We are adjusting administrative schedules to deal with the shortfall there," Crumpton said. "They won't be furloughed, but they will be losing some of their hours."

County Action

The Lee County Commissioners voted to order a hiring freeze during its meeting Monday night, and Crumpton has halted all capital purchases, out-of-state travel and travel without training requirements as a precautionary measure.

"Our biggest issue is how people are going to be affected," he said. "Whether it's the people getting the services or our employees. We've got folks who will not be drawing a paycheck who won't be able to pay their bills or put food on the table. That has a ripple effect in the economy."

The biggest fear, Crumpton said, is the lingering effects and the financial impact on the county.