1/24/2019 4:31:00 PM Federal government
shutdown could hit county pocketbook
Chisago County Commissioners heard last week that the federal government’s current dysfunction is primarily causing concern for those involved in the nutrition assistance programs-- and not as much negative impact is being felt now by other county-federal partnerships, such as environmental services and road and bridge.
If there is an up-side to the federal government partial shutdown it would be the time of year this is taking place, as seasonal federal service slowdowns are already in effect. The economic benefits generated by tourism on the National & Scenic Riverway aren’t in play because visitor activity at U.S. Park Service run sites on the St Croix River and Namekagon facilities is very slow in winter.
Kurt Schneider, Chisago County Environmental Services and Zoning, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a co-partner on permit review for a number of hydrologic-related projects, but because it’s winter there’s little project review activity.
County Engineer Joe Triplett added the COE is not “turning around permits as quickly” as the transportation department might normally expect, but delay “is not huge right now.” Triplett reported the COE is reviewing a round-a-bout project at State Highway 95 on the east side of North Branch, with MNDOT. Two other county road projects are also in the hopper for Corps review at this time.
The County Board’s Legislative Affairs update turned more serious when HHS Director Nancy Dahlin and supervisor Todd McMurray spoke.
The county Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (WICK) runs around 600 county cases monthly. Dahlin said it is funded by federal appropriations through April in Minnesota.
WIC clients, including 78 formula dependent babies, have the potential of being shifted to SNAP services if the WIC budget goes dry. McMurray said this looming pressure on SNAP could have the side effect of food shelves being overwhelmed.
The county administers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to 1,966 persons, of which 800 are children, according to McMurray. Food assistance averages $176 per case per month.
The state Department of Human Services announced late last week that SNAP recipients should expect to have benefits distributed (mostly electronically) by “late” January for the entire month of February.
No additional SNAP benefit funding will be released in February.
McMurray mentioned the potential for staff layoffs if the federal programs they oversee at the county level are not operating. Or, wages could be “back-filled” by the county in the interim.
Commissioner Mike Robinson said the Lakes & Pines Community Action Council, which is a pass through agency for regional federal programs, has gotten the winter energy assistance monies, but there are federal housing programs and benefits that could be affected.
Commissioners did not support the county local levy picking up costs tied to programs out of Washington D.C. Commissioner Ben Montzka said local taxpayers shouldn’t be putting money into expenses the federal government is responsible for.
The commissioners also received written updates from soil and water and farm services offices in North Branch. The Conservation and Farm Services Agency sites are closed. Depending on how long federal government functionality is affected, the Soil & Water Conservation District budget may be impacted if expected federal appropriations aren’t processed. The County Board voted to have staff draft a letter to communicate the local situation and shutdown impact concerns to U.S. Congress members representing Minnesota, and to President Trump.