Federal government’s partial shutdown now being felt in Delaware

DOVER — As the federal government shutdown drags on, millions of Americans are caught in the crossfire.

Delawareans are no exception.

The partial shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, surpassed the four-week mark Saturday and has already caused federal government employees to miss a paycheck.

Although some agencies continue to be funded, a U.S. Senate report from December outlining the impact of a shutdown predicted at least 420,000 employees would work without pay, while 380,000 would be furloughed.

At least some of the estimated 5,900 Delawareans who work for the federal government, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are among those who haven’t been paid and don’t know when they will be.

But they’re not the only Delawareans impacted: People no longer have access to certain government programs or services for the time being.

Like just about everything that seems to come out of Washington these days, the issue can be traced back to partisan politics.

The Democratic House majority has refused to provide $5.7 billion for President Trump’s proposed security wall along the southern border, prompting the president to threaten to veto any spending plan that doesn’t contain the funding even if it means the shutdown drags on.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has rejected calls to bring to the floor a bill that does not include the requested funds.

Both sides’ bases appear to have their feet dug in, even as some moderates try to find common ground.

As of Friday, 78 Delawareans employed by the federal government had filed for unemployment since the state began taking claims one week before.

Individuals who meet the criteria can receive up to $330 a week for 26 weeks, with the Division of Unemployment Insurance distributing benefits on behalf of the federal government.

Only employees who are not currently working are eligible, meaning those who are still performing their duties but are not being compensated cannot receive unemployment benefits.

Individuals can file online at ui.delawareworks.com or in person at one of the Delaware Department of Labor’s offices in Wilmington, Newark, Dover or Georgetown. They must first provide their Social Security number and their past 18 months of employment history.

Because of the shutdown, the Department of Health and Social Services announced Monday it would be distributing food stamps earlier than normal for the upcoming month. According to the agency, benefits were loaded onto recipients’ Electronic Benefit Transfer last week and clients were to be notified ahead of time.

The state “typically staggers food benefits between the second and the 17th days of the month,” DHSS said.

More than 136,000 Delawareans are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, with the average household receiving $238 per month. Most recipients are children, seniors and individuals with disabilities. Funding for the program comes from Washington.

“To be clear, these early food benefits are not additional or bonus benefits,” DHSS Secretary Kara Odom Walker said in a statement.

“Because clients will have two months’ worth of food dollars on their EBT cards this month, we urge them to plan and budget wisely. It is important for them to use January benefits in January, and February’s benefits in February. Our hope is to be back on the regular schedule beginning in March.”

Delaware clients can check their balances online at ConnectEBT.com or call Conduent Customer Service at 1-800-526-9099 for more information.

Should the shutdown stretch into March, trouble may arise with funding for the program, although a DHSS spokeswoman said the state has requested more information from the federal government in the event the closure drags on.

DHSS spent about $1.8 billion in total federal funding in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2018.

In a spot of bright news for Americans, Medicare and Medicaid appear secure: Because of legislation that passed before the shutdown, the programs are funded through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

Farmers are being impacted by the shutdown, according to the Delaware Department of Agriculture. Programs that were to be implemented by the federal Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which became law two days before the shutdown began, are on hiatus, and agency officials are seeking recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Between the weather, trade impacts, and prices, Delaware farmers had a really hard year in 2018. Farmers need access to the programs they use each year, and without them their financial stress has increased,” Delaware Agriculture Department spokeswoman Stacey Hofmann wrote in an email.

“Some producers are dependent on loans issued by USDA’s farm agency and timeliness is important to making decisions regarding land leases, cropping intentions, and crop and livestock intentions.

Dairy farmers have also been awaiting the new USDA Margin Coverage Program to alleviate the economic strain that they have been under.

“Until the government re-opens, the program which was created under the 2018 Farm Bill cannot provide the safety net that these farmers need. Just last month, we lost another dairy farm here in Delaware. The impacts of this shutdown are real.”

A spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said the agency is taking a hit.

In addition to a loss in funding, permits are not being approved as quickly and the agency is unable to properly coordinate with the federal government.

“Also, there could be increased budgetary implications felt by the Department from the ongoing delay in federal grant funding,” Michael Globetti wrote in an email. “Associated problems are DNREC’s inability to make payments to participants in cost-share programs that require federal approval, and the delaying of DNREC projects that need federal approval or funding, or both, to move forward.”

Some cabinet agencies in Delaware do appear to be largely unaffected. Nearly all of the Department of Education’s federal grants are fully funded for the rest of the year (money for child nutrition programs is expected to last through March), while the Department of State’s only notable problem thus far has been delays in approving licenses for select occupations regulated by the agency.

Dover Air Force Base, which places a crucial role in driving Kent County’s economy, is unaffected by the shutdown because funding for the Department of Defense was approved before the closure began.

For now, there’s little Americans can do but wait. How the longest shutdown in U.S. history ends is anyone’s guess.

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