REXBURG – While the recent federal government shutdown has limited various funds normally issued to nonprofit organizations, the Family Crisis Center will continue to operate for now.
That’s all thanks to its prosperous thrift store, Second Helpings. Because of the store, the center has enough money to cover expenses while President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress argue over funding the border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Revenue generated via Second Helpings may be spent on any Family Crisis Center need, said its director Margie Harris.
“We call it ‘undesignated funds’. If some expense comes up that we don’t have grant funds for, we can use the thrift store money,” she said.
The money can help cover the cost of changing a domestic violence victim’s locks to fixing a broken window. No government agency or grant provider can demand to know what the money is being spent on as the thrift store generates its own funds for the center. The Family Crisis Center created Second Helpings in 2012 and did a major renovation of the store last year.
The FCC has applied for and received various grant to help with its program. Last fall, it received a grant from the federal government’s Violence Against Women department. The three-year grant reimburses the Family Crisis Center every month for various expenses that have been averaging about $30,000 a month.
Violence Against Women Department officials have told Harris that funds are guaranteed through January 18.
“We spend the money, and we have to send in a request to cover those expenses,” Harris said. “At this point, they will still be able to disperse funds and get those back and processed until the 18th of January. They will let us know if there’s further delays.”
The last time the Family Crisis dealt with a financial crisis involved a post office strike in the early 2000’s. At the time, the center received its funding via the mail.
“We mailed in our requests for drawdowns. They mailed us a check. Even though the funds were available, because of the post office strike, we couldn’t receive the funds until that was over,” Harris recalled.
At the time, the Family Crisis Center didn’t have any other funds to rely on other than various government grant funding.
“That was a real scary time. We didn’t know how we were going to make it,” she said.
Harris says she doesn’t expect the Family Crisis Center to experience any financial problems for the time being. Yet, should the government shut down drag on, and the center’s budget not manage to cover everything, the center may reduce office hours.
Tuesday night President Trump went on television to discuss the government shut down situation. By Thursday, there was no resolution to the problem all stemming from Trump’s insistence on building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and Congress’ refusal to cover the cost.
Georgia Smith, Deputy Director Communications, Research and Determination Services Idaho Department of Labor in the Gem State, said an estimated 13,300 people work for the federal government. Of those, between 3,000 and 4,600 workers are not working. Another 2,500 post office workers in the Gem State are not impacted by the shutdown, Smith said.
“Of those Idahoans working in the affected agencies, 76 percent are concentrated in three agencies – U.S. Department of Agriculture (primarily the U.S Forest Service), the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs,” she said.
The income produced by Idaho’s civilian workers proves significant, she said.
“Idaho wages for civilian federal workers, not including Post Office workers, totaled over $178.4 million for the first quarter of 2018,” she said.
Smith reported that furloughed federal employees may file for unemployment. She noted that “unpaid essential workers” are still working full time but can’t apply for unemployment as they’re not considered unemployed.
“As of today, over 474 Idaho federal workers have filed unemployment insurance claims in Idaho. Of this number, 412 claims have been filed in the last seven days,” she said.
Once the shutdown ends, those federal workers who received unemployment, must report that unemployment income and will have to repay that money. Furloughed workers will also be required to look for other work because they don’t have a specific return-to-work date.
Smith said she couldn’t speak for unemployed or furloughed federal workers but said it’s certainly a stressful situation to be experiencing.
“It’s a very difficult place for them to be in. We’re trying to figure out ways we can help and support them. It’s been a little tricky for federal employees to collect unemployment. We’re trying to figure out ways to ease the burden,” she said.
Smith reported that Department of Labor officials have met with Uncle Sam’s furloughed workers.
“Our local offices and UI staff have also spoken with many federal workers on the phone, and a blog post we have with answers to Frequently Asked Questions, is receiving a record number of visits and views,” she said.
The government shutdown is also impacting people’s abilities to buy a home via Uncle Sam’s Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Agriculture loan programs.
Rexburg Real Estate agent Bob Canning says that, while the shutdown hasn’t stopped agents from showing homes or from people putting offers on homes, it has prevented many from completing the loan process.
“(Home buyers) can’t get access to some IRS documents right now. It’s holding things back,” he said. “When they go to get their financing, if they need any kind of document from the IRS, they’re waiting around.”
In an article written by Nicole Foy in the Idaho Press, she cited Idaho Mortgage Lenders Association President Alison Gillespie who reported borrowing money for a home could prove difficult for about one quarter of the population.
“The national Mortgage lenders Association estimates up to 25 percent of homebuyers in need of financing could be affected nationally, although that percentage may be lower for Idaho,” Foy said.
A Federal Housing administration loan is a mortgage used by low to moderate-income borrowers and insured by the FHA, she reported.
“While the lending program for single-family homes, any mortgages for Idaho’s limited condo supply will be delayed until after the shutdown,” Foy quoted Gillespie as saying.
A USDA loan guarantees a low-interest loan – with an approved lender – for borrowers in rural areas.
“The USDA has to issue a conditional commitment to the approved lender,” Foy said.
Such a commitment tells the lender that USDA has accepted the loan files for review. Gillespie says that such is not happening while Rural Development employees are on furlough. As Canning said, lenders can’t process loans without a USDA notification.
“We can be ready as soon as USDA is back in place. We can wait for that conditional commitment,” Gillespie said. “But until then, we can’t fund it.”
Foy also reported that those relying on food stamps could also be impacted by the government shutdown. The food stamp program officially known as the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” (SNAP) will be funded through February. Foy cited an Associated Press report that stated around 40 million Americans rely on the food stamp program.
According to a USDA press release, food benefits will be fully funded in February.
“At President Trump’s direction, we have been working with the Administration on this solution. It works and is legally sound. And we want to assure states, and SNAP recipients, that the benefits for February will be provided,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
Perdue reported that the USDA’s motto is “Do Right and Feed Everyone.”
“With this solution, we’ve got the ‘Feed Everyone’ part handled. And I believe that the plan we’ve constructed takes care of the ‘Do Right’ part as well,” he said.
Perdue said that the USDA is currently working with the states to issue February food benefits earlier than normal.
“USDA will rely on a provision of the just-expired Continuing Resolution (CR), which provides an appropriation for programs like SNAP and child nutrition to incur obligations for program operations within 30 days of the CR’s expiration,” he said.
Perdue said that USDA plans to tell states to request early issuances of SNAP benefits for next month. States will have until Jan. 20 to implement early issuance, he said.
“Once the early issuances are made, the February benefits will be made available to SNAP participants at that time,” Perdue said.
Perdue reported that various nutrition assistance programs have enough funding to continue through February. Such programs include school meals and after school programs.
“The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has prior year funding which USDA will begin to provide states this week to facilitate February benefits. Other FNS programs, which provide critical assistance to our nation’s food banks, the elderly, and Tribal nations, may continue to utilize grant funding provided prior to the lapse in appropriations. Commodity deliveries to those programs will continue,” he said.
Perdue stated that the SNAP February federal issuance equals around $4.8 billion while state expenses equals around $350 million for a total need of around $5.1 billion.
“FNS has noticed states to hold their issuance files. States would, instead, implement an early issuance strategy, providing February benefits to SNAP participants on or before January 20, 2019,” he said. “We will be working with States individually on how this approach is executed, in order to issue benefits to eligible households in the most efficient and equitable manner possible.”
As more details become available on the shutdown and its impact on Upper Valley federal workers, the Standard Journal will update this story.
In the meantime, Harris urged residents to help keep the Family Crisis Center running by shopping at its thrift store.
“It’s because of our support from the public on our thrift store, that we are safe for the time being on our funding,” she said. “We’re grateful for that. Please continue to support our thrift store. It ultimately supports our entire organization and services.”