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News Government shutdown affecting crucial programs

Nearing the three-week mark since the federal government shutdown first began, departments in Macon County went before the Macon County commissioners Tuesday night to voice their concerns on budget shortfalls.

Jane Kimsey with the Department of Social Services (DSS) informed the board that if the shutdown did not end soon, several vital mandated services would be out of operational funds.

"There is still uncertainty regarding the federal government shutdown as it relates to the funding of Social Services,” said Kimsey. “But based on conference calls and administrative letters over the past week, there are specific services that stand to be immediately affected as of this month.

The two programs that Kimsey believes will not be sustainable for much longer without federal dollars are federally mandated programs, meaning the county is required by law to offer the services. Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services are both programs that receive funding through federal block grants and as of Oct. 1, are considered unfunded mandates.

Kimsey explained that the DSS budget is comprised of 51 percent of federal dollars. The department functions through a reimbursement basis and sits on a two-month delay to receive funds back for services offered. Although Kimsey believes that when the shutdown ends, the mandated services offered through DSS will be retroactively funded, her department stopped receiving funds as of Oct. 1. Because of the delay and the immediate stop of funds to DSS, Child and Adult Protective Service programs can no longer be sustained by the DSS department.

“Help me to understand this,” County Commissioner Kevin Corbin asked. “The county is mandated by the federal government to provide those services, but the government is no longer providing funds to do so?”

“That is exactly right,” Kimsey responded.

Due to proactive budgeting, Kimsey is able to sustain other programs through the end of the month, but if the shutdown rolls into November, the impacts will be widely felt.

Other DSS programs that stand to be affected are:

– Work First Cash Assistance applications cannot be processed due to TANF Block Grant not being authorized.

– Guardianship services funding is available for this month through Social Services Block Grant carry over funds, but beyond October is uncertain.

– Aging Services provided in October such as congregate meals, home delivered meals, most Adult Day Care Services and Support Services can be covered with carry over Home Care Community Block Grant funds.

– Child Care Subsidy services in October may or may not be covered with carry over Child Care and Development Funds, but that is uncertain at this time. Southwestern Child Development Commission administers the Macon County child care subsidy allocation and will be making a decision on whether or not to suspend child care services as more information becomes available on carry over funds.

– Energy assistance programs, which includes Crisis Intervention Program (CIP) and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding availability is still not determined. These programs do not begin until Nov. 1 for CIP and Dec. 1 for LIHEAP.

“There are no other funding sources for the energy assistance programs,” said County Commissioner Ronnie Beale. “The state is scrambling to see if they will be able to help those folks if the shutdown does end, but the only other option would be to use local funds.”

Kimsey informed commissioners that in order to just maintain the mandated services at DSS, her department would need $2,600 a day.

Beale asked how long DSS would be able to maintain operations before having to send people home and Kimsey informed her that was not an option because the programs that are at risk are mandated and have to be provided.

“The impacts of the shutdown will get worse the longer it lasts,” said Kimsey. “There is no assurance of reimbursement of federal funds in the impacted areas even if the federal budget is approved and we don't plan on receiving state funds in lieu of federal funds.”

Macon County's Health Department Director Jim Bruckner echoed Kimsey's presentation informing commissioners that his department will need funding assistance for mandated programs if the shutdown continues. “The longer this lasts, the more money it is going to cost,” said Bruckner. “We are hoping that if it comes to it, we will receive state funds, but there are no guarantees.”

“As we enter week two of the federal government shutdown, many of the services provided through the health department are starting to feel the impact,” said Bruckner. “There are two groups of services that are being impacted. The programs which are mandated under the law and then the programs that we deem essential or by law are required to either be provided or are to be assured to be provided somewhere in the county.”

According to Bruckner, the mandated programs and services that stand to be affected are:

– Communicable Disease Program, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

– Maternal Health Program funded by Maternal Child Health Block Grant

– Family Planning Program funded by Maternal Child Health Block Grant

– Public Health Preparedness Program funded by CDC

– Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Services Branch

– Breast Feeding Peer Counselor funded by the USDA, Food and Nutrition Services Branch

Macon County's Health Department has stopped providing new clients with vouchers for the WIC program and are placing clients on a wait list. “We are hoping there may be some funding for the WIC program at the state level, but that will just be for staffing,” said Bruckner.

The essential programs that stand to be impacted include:

– Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program funded by CDC

– Wise Woman Cardiovascular Disease Program funded by CDC

– Community Transformation Program funded by CDC

– Health Communities funded by the Prevention Health Promotion Block Grant

Bruckner explained that the health department had funding to sustain those programs through Tuesday, but as of yesterday, no longer have the funds for the mandated programs. In order to continue operations and offering the mandated services, the health department will need $2,096 a day.

Commissioner Ron Haven questions the county's obligation to provide federal programs. “I understand we are an arm of the state,” said Haven. “But are the federal unfunded mandates something we have to do? Does it work the same with the federal government as it does the state?”

County Attorney Chester Jones said that the programs are federal programs handed down to the state and then the state hands them to the county and by law, the county must maintain them.

“As of right now, the shutdown is affecting us minimally because of how our departments have handled and planned for it,” said Corbin. “The long term impact will be devastating. I don't support or agree with the unfunded mandates on any level, and this is something we are just going to have to look at daily.”

The Town of Franklin also discussed the looming impact the shutdown is having on the community. At Monday night's Board of Aldermen meeting, Alderman Bob Scott suggested that the board send a letter to Congressman Mark Meadows (R) who represents Macon County in the U.S. House of Representatives that would urge him to take steps towards ending the government shutdown.

“I don't know if it will do any good or not. Representative Meadows, on one hand he's said he's not, but on the other he's said that he was one of the architects of the shutdown. I was just wondering if this board might consider a letter urging him to get this thing settled one way or another and get people back to work because I think it's hurting us economically,” said Scott.

Scott pitched the idea to the board after receiving various comments from the public concerning experiences they've had because of the shutdown like being told to stay off hiking trails and not being able to use public restrooms. He also cited an email he received discussing the struggles of hopeful FBI agents that had been “waiting years to get in the class and were all sent home.”

The board seemed to be in agreement that they all wanted a reasonable end to the shutdown, but a collective letter may be difficult to pen considering that their next meeting is a month away.

“I have already sent them my personal letter,” said Alderman Farrell Jamison.

“I don't know if you've had the same luck as I have, but I've called and I've written and I've got nothing,” Scott replied. “We collectively have some clout I think as the town board. I think it would be a simple letter just urging Congressman Meadows to please move in some direction to get this thing settled.

Scott volunteered to draft the letter and discuss the strategy of approving the letter with Town Attorney John Henning Jr. so that the board doesn't violate the public records law.

Staff Writer Travis Tallent contributed to this article.

County manager update

Tuesday night, the Macon County Board of Commissioners went into closed session to discuss the hiring of a new county manager. The county manager seat became vacant on October 1 with the retiring of Jack Horton.

While Mike Decker, Macon County's Human Resource Director and the Deputy Clerk to the Board of Commissioners, is currently serving as the interim county manager, he is only anticipated to serve as interim through the end of the month.

After receiving 38 applications, the board narrowed the applicant pool to four individuals during a closed session Tuesday night. The board of commissioners are scheduled to meet next Tuesday and Thursday to conduct interviews with the four candidates.

The interviewing process is confidential, as it is a personnel matter. Commission Chair Kevin Corbin said that the remaining four applicants are all from within North Carolina and he is excited to complete the process.

Corbin said he hopes that after next Thursday, the board will be able to make a final decision and announce the new manager.

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