An agency that helps people in crisis obtain housing, food and utility assistance in Benton, Linn and Lincoln counties was scrambling Tuesday to grasp how the federal government shutdown will effect its ability to deliver such services in the short- and long-term.
Community Services Consortium combines federal, state and local government dollars with private grants and donations to offer an array of services with a mission to eradicate poverty.
Federal dollars are bundled in the funding for so many CSC programs — either directly or funneled through the state and passed on to the agency — that the shutdown will be disastrous, executive director Martha Lyon said Tuesday.
Programs that still are operating from fiscal year 2013 funds will continue to operate, but programs that depend on funding in the new year — which began Monday — are stalled for now.
“Those fiscal year 2014 funds will have to be made up through donations or emergency funds, or the programs will have to be shut down,” Lyon said. “That is a pretty horrifying prospect.”
Lyon tried to get answers from federal and state officials about which programs might still be funded and what to do about the others.
“It’s been hard to get information from the federal government, and extremely difficult to get anything from the state,” she said. “For the bulk of our services, we have no idea what the state’s contingency plan is.”
The agency is a one-stop place for individuals and families to access low-income home energy assistance in the winter from 11 different programs, but federal dollars fund the seasonal office workers that are hired in October to process applications.
“We have already done our interviewing and are in the process of hiring,” Lyon said. “We had to put that on hold because that program is run, in large part, by federal funds.”
The lack of federal funding will have a ripple effect, Lyon said.
For example, an elderly woman on a fixed income depends on the program to pay for one month of her electricity bill per year. Because she is in good standing with the utility company, she can opt to have her monthly payments evened out over the year. If her account becomes delinquent when she comes up short one payment, the utility company will take her off that plan. She will be stuck in the middle of winter, when the power bill is the highest, without assistance.
“So this woman — who calibrates her budget within $150 a year — all of her careful plans come tumbling down,” Lyon said. “To be responsible for that is heartbreaking and unconscionable.”
If federally-funded programs are shut down, the need will spill into other programs, Lyon said. If the state runs out of federal unemployment funding, for example, more people will end up at community food banks.
“It puts a layer of anxiety on top of people already worried about serving people who need help,” Lyon said. “Then imagine that you’re the person who needs the help.”