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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

WIC, Reach Up Funded For A Few Weeks, Racine Says

The partial shutdown of the federal government is now in it’s second day, and while some results are immediately obvious—the closure of national parks and monuments, furloughs for some federal workers and others working temporarily without pay, the long-term effects outside of Washington are harder to gage.

That doesn’t mean they’re not of concern, especially to Vermont officials, Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine, who spoke with VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb about the potential impact of the government shutdown.

If the shutdown only lasts for a few days, the state will be able to weather the storm just fine, officials say.

“It will be ok for a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, after that we will start seeing some very serious impacts on Vermonters who are receiving the various benefits,” Racine said.

The Agency of Human Services has a budget of $2.3 billion, about half of which comes from federal money.

“So if that spigot gets turned off it’s going to have a huge impact on the people we are serving here,” Racine explained. He says Medicaid is funded for the first quarter, so that program is fine for three months, but other programs will be cut off as their funding runs out.

Racine says there are a number of programs will be cut off if the shutdown stretches out in a few weeks:

  • The temporary assistance to needy families program, or Reach-Up welfare assistance to get back to work, within a couple of weeks the state will not be able to draw any money down to fund it.
  • WIC, supplemental food program for pregnant woman and young children, is 100 percent federally funded and Vermont only has two weeks of funding available.
  • For the LIHEAP fuel assistance program, payments don’t go out until November, so the state has a month or so before the impact will be felt on that program.
  • Block grants for substance abuse, mental health, and child care are threatened to lose funding within a week or two.

“One of the things we are looking at with the people who are left at their offices in Washington is whether we can go ahead and spend the money and be reimbursed by the federal government at the point where they do appropriate for this fiscal year, or whether they’re going to tell us, no we will not make up for lost funds. We’ll be faced with a really tough decision based on what they’re telling us for various programs,” Racine said.
Racine said there’s not enough wiggle room in the state’s budget to absorb those human service programs, and many of those decisions will have to come from the governor’s office.

“We aren’t ready to make those decisions yet. We need to evaluate how long this is going to go on. So we’re still at a time of great uncertainty as how this will proceed, but it’s a very scary time for me as secretary of this agency because these are essential programs. I mean we’re talking about WIC programs, LIHEAP, we’re talking about people’s ability to eat, provide basic nutrition for their kids, to heat their homes as we go into winter. This is a very serious situation,” Racine said.

For people already receiving 3 SquareVT, the food stamp benefits, they’re already facing a decrease in money because of the end of federal recovery money.

“We’re facing the tough realities of budgets in the last year that aren’t growing the way they were growing when we had the federal money coming in. On top of that, we have sequestration, and anticipating the loss of millions of dollars in fuel assistance, in housing support, Head Start programs, other food stamp cuts.” Racine said even absent the government shutdown, the Agency is facing serious budget problems because of the loss of other federal funds.  And Racine noted that sequestration is expected to continue regardless of how the government shutdown is resolved.

“So Vermont is headed for continued tough times with its budget because of the actions of the federal government,” Racine said.

The hope is for a short government shutdown, but if the situation continues, Racine said the governor and the legislative leaders will have to get together and decide which direction the state will go.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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