According to reports out of multiple Guilford County departments and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners this week, the partial government shutdown isn’t having any effect on Guilford County government with one exception – some families will get their food and nutrition benefits earlier than usual.
That might be surprising to some given that the shutdown story has dominated the national news for several weeks; however, in reality the shutdown is highly limited, especially in relation to services that connect with county government: The only federal departments that are partially shut down are The Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the State Department, the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Others, such as the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services are operating as usual.
Guilford County Clerk to the Board Robin Keller said this week that she wasn’t aware of any major effect the shutdown has had on Guilford County government.
Likewise, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said the partial federal government shutdown – which went into effect on Saturday, Dec. 22 because of a dispute between President Donald Trump and the US Congress over funding for a wall along the country’s border with Mexico – hasn’t been felt by the commissioners.
Branson said he hasn’t polled all individual county departments regarding problems from the shutdown, but he said that, so far, no major issues resulting from the federal deadlock have been relayed to him.
Branson, who runs a trucking business, did add that he had some extra trouble getting tags renewed for vehicles on which he had to pay some federal taxes as part of that renewal process.
Commissioner Jeff Phillips also said he hadn’t heard of any county issues at this point. He said that to his knowledge, all “primary county functions,” such as the Department of Health and Human Services, Rural Fire Protection, Emergency Services, Animal Services, and the Sheriff’s Department are “all pretty much business as usual for now.”
Phillips pointed out that about half of Guilford County’s budget goes to fund Guilford County Schools and Guilford County Technical Community College (GTCC), and he added that it’s his understanding that those systems are operating normally at this time as well.
“If the shutdown continues into February or March, there could be some issues with the timeliness of food stamps and other federally funded programs, for example,” Phillips said. “Let’s hope we don’t have to cross that bridge. I’d like to think this thing gets resolved way before then, but the way things are going at this point – who knows?”
Guilford County Social Services Director Heather Skeens stated that she and her staff are watching the situation. Her department is changing some things up due to the shutdown.
“We are in a ‘hold tight’ mode,” Skeens wrote in an email. “We are meeting next week as February [Food and Nutrition Service] benefits will be loaded on 1/20/19 and that will be the final allocation (as it stands now). The state has informed [us] that we have several months of day care subsidy money.”
Because of the federal shutdown, the US Department of Agriculture has instructed states to issue February’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) benefits by Sunday, Jan. 20. Those benefits would normally be available to families between Sunday, Feb. 3 and Thursday, Feb. 21.
An email to Skeens from NC Assistant Secretary for Human Services Michael Becketts quotes Tara Myers, the state’s deputy secretary for Human Services: “We are working closely with county departments of social services and our federal partners to ensure participants and retailers have little to no interruption of FNS services due to the shutdown.”
The email states: “FNS is a federal food assistance program that provides low-income families with funds to purchase food needed for a nutritional, adequate diet. Once February’s FNS funds are distributed, they will be available for use. However, participants should be aware that since there will be no FNS benefits issued in the month of February, they should plan accordingly.”
The letter adds that, “Despite the federal shutdown, [the NC Department of Health and Human Services] projects to have sufficient funds through February, not only for FNS, but also for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). However, if the federal shutdown continues, funding for these services could run out after February.”