Oct. 16 2013
The government shutdown cannot end soon enough for poor residents of North Carolina, as the state has become the first in the country to cut off welfare benefits due to the gridlock in Washington.
The decision came from North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which ordered its local offices on October 10 to stop processing applications for November until the federal government is back up and running.
The state’s welfare program, called “Work First,” services more than 20,000 people, primarily children, and requires participants to reapply for benefits every month. Work First is funded entirely by the federal government, and helps poor residents purchase food and other supplies necessary for day-to-day life.
But Work First isn’t the only North Carolina service hampered by the government shutdown. According to Reuters, other programs will also be affected - including one that provides childcare subsidies covering more than 70,000 children. In various parts of the state, the delivery of those subsidies has already come to a halt.
"I would say this is an emergency," Alexandra Sirota, director of the low-income advocacy group North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, told Reuters. "They’re cutting off a lifeline for thousands of North Carolina families who have experienced significant hardships."
Critics of the state’s decision point out that Work First only cost $4.8 million in September - a small number compared to the $650 million “rainy day” fund that North Carolina has set aside in case of emergencies. They argue that the reason for stopping programs like Work First is not based on the shutdown, but rather on politics.
However, North Carolina’s HHS department doesn’t agree.
"We are heavily dependent on federal dollars," state HHS spokeswoman Julie Henry told Reuters. "When these kinds of things happen at the federal level, it has an immediate impact."
Work First applications will still be accepted by local officials in the meantime. Processing will simply be delayed until Democrats and Republicans reach an agreement to end the shutdown. Many reports suggest a deal is imminent.
This isn’t the first time North Carolina has considered halting social services. Last week, the state contemplated ending its Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program as the government shutdown dragged on, potentially hurting poor women and children who rely on the service to purchase baby food and formula. The decision never formally went through, and the program has not been interrupted.
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