Shutdown threatens child-care subsidies, other aid
In-home care services for the elderly and disabled and the daily delivery of meals to some Durham County residents could end by the end of the month if the federal government shutdown continues, the Durham County Department of Social Services director warned Thursday.
Speaking at a news conference at the department’s headquarters on Main Street, department Director Michael Becketts said some assistance has already been stopped, including funding through the North Carolina’s Work First program to help people in-need to get transportation to work or job training.
And if the shutdown continues, he said, other assistance is threatened. That includes dollars used to help cover the cost of child care for about 2,200 children in Durham County, he said. Becketts said he didn’t know the timing of when the child-care subsidies could end because state officials haven’t told them.
“They’re still working out the numbers,” he said. “If the state can find the dollars, then we don’t have to cut child-care subsidy. If the state runs out of money and they don’t tell us that they don’t have money for us to pay child-care subsidies we would suspend child care. What every county is waiting for is a date certain.”
To try to save some of the threatened programs for one month, Becketts said he plans to go to the Durham County Board of Commissioners on Monday to ask for about $235,000 to fill in the gap left by the federal dollars.
That would cover the cost, for one month, of providing in-home aides for older and disabled people who are unable to provide their own basic care. In addition, he said it would also cover the department’s share of the cost of providing food through the Meals on Wheels program, which Becketts said is for about 150 people.
However, it would not cover the cost of the employment services offered through Work First, which is North Carolina’s program for helping families stay off or move off welfare into jobs under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families initiative.
Becketts also said that if the shutdown continues, the cash assistance that’s provided through Work First would stop Nov. 1, Becketts said.
“That’s a rather significant thing to stop for families,” he said. “These aren’t things that that we have to stop because we want to, but we have to because the flow of money from Washington has stopped,” he added.
The county’s request for funding would not the cost of child-care subsidies, Becketts said. The cost of child care for about 2,200 children for a month is more than $1 million, he said, and that’s not something that “seems to be workable right now.”
“That request is part of the discussions, however, it’s an enormous amount of money,” he said. “There’s no magic sort of box of money that’s just going to open up for services,” he added.
The closure of that program would have a ripple effect in the community, he said.
“What that actually means is that they wont’ be able to go to work, and they risk actually not being able to keep their jobs, stay in training programs,” he said.
He put out a call to local nonprofits and other agencies and businesses to help people in need. He said he’s “more than willing” to talk to anyone to meet people’s needs.
“Social Services often functions as the safety net for the community,” he said. “With the federal shutdown impacting us the way it has, the net is not able to be cut as broadly and the hole in the net has gotten bigger.”
The press conference comes just days after the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it ran out of funding for what’s known as the WIC program, which helps provide food for women, babies and children. The department stopped issuing benefits as of the close of business Tuesday, although WRAL reported Thursday night that DHHS had secured funding to continue the WIC program in North Carolina, starting Friday.
About 80 percent of eligible clients already had been issued food benefits for October.
Durham resident Shantia Barrett was concerned that the end of the benefits would mean she wouldn’t be able to use the program to buy formula for her baby. She’s due on Oct. 23.
“Now that I have to buy everything, I’m not prepared,” Barrett said. “I have to find a way to feed my baby.”
The program has made sure she has been eating enough to keep her and her child healthy, said Barrett, who described herself as a person who normally doesn’t eat a lot. She said the program made sure there was enough food.
“I’m just really scared,” she said. “I’m scared that I’m not going to have enough food for my baby.”
She said she’s going to try to re-register after her baby is born.