DSS updates commissioners on effects of shutdown

Dylan Lightfoot Staff Writer

October 9, 2013

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners Monday heard an update on effects of the federal government shutdown on social services in Ashe.

Ashe County Department of Social Services Director Donna Weaver presented the board with a list of programs that will be affected for the duration of the shutdown, and interim strategies for managing affected departments.

“The programs that are going to be affected immediately are TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families)…the childcare subsidy program, the social services block grant funding stream, the Crisis Intervention Program (CIP) and Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP),” she said.

Effective Oct.1, there is no money to run these programs, she said.

Weaver explained that the TANF program, administered in N.C. as Work First, has two sources of funding: the county’s required share, known as Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funds, and federal matching funds, known as “R monies.”

“If you have one client or you have 2,000 clients, we are required to spend the MOE funds,” she said. “We always spend all of our MOE…and we always spend our federal money.”

Work First is “married to” Child Protective Services (CPS), foster care and in-home services, she said. The program must maintain a specific level of participation by benefit recipients to recieve federal funds.

“They have to be working, they have to go to school, they have to do things that are approved under a plan,” Weaver said.

If DSS doesn’t keep participation rates up, CPS and foster care do not get funded. “You can’t have one program without the other,” she said.

The childcare subsidy program is funded entirely by federal dollars, and will be impacted effective Oct. 8, she said.

Childcare services will also be suspended beginning this week, she said. “We’re already in the fifth day of (childcare services) with no money to pay for childcare subsidies.”

“(Childcare) providers will probably close programs,” she said, adding that working parents would have to “come up with a different arrangement or…pay the full cost of care, and that can be between $400-600 a month per child.”

Weaver said it would be up to the board of commissioners to move to fund childcare services, but that permission to suspend the program for the interim had been applied for by DSS. Ashe County’s federal childcare subsidy is approximately $20,000 per week, she said.

Ashe’s social services block grant of $92,850 will be cut completely, she said. The grant funds mandated services in the adult services program, including Adult Protective Services, guardianship, rest home monitoring and payee services,

“Those are services we cannot stop providing. We have a legal responsibility,” Weaver said, adding that the county already pays most of the costs for these “unfunded mandate” programs, as block grant funds typically cover only the first three months of the year.

Stopgap measures implemented by DSS include immediate suspension of Work First applications, Emergency Assistance, Adult Day Care services and the CIP/LIEAP program, and a hiring freeze for two vacant DSS positions.

Furloughs for DSS employees are on the table last resort, she said.

“Up until about a day or so ago, we understood food stamps was not going to be impacted. However…the federal government says there is enough money to fund the food stamp program through the month of October,”

“After October, nobody knows,” said Weaver.

“Programs not affected are Medicaid benefits and transportation, our IV-E Adoption Assistance, our child support program and Medicaid At-Risk,” Weaver said.

Reached for comment today, Board of Commissioners Chairman Larry Rhodes said, “I’m really sorry were going through this, but I’m glad Donna Weaver is on top of it.”

The board has not taken immediate action in response to shutdown effects, Rhodes said. “If the shutdown continues, we will have to. It all depends how long it goes on.”