Upper Valley feels effects of government shutdown

by Wally Joe Cook | 2/1/19 3:00am

Although the debate surrounding the longest federal government shutdown in American history is centered in Washington, D.C., the effects have been felt in the Upper Valley and specifically Hanover, according to Hanover town manager Julia Griffin.

“We couldn’t get a hold of our federal partners because they were closed,” Griffin said. “A lot of our social service agency partners that provide supplemental assistance to clients in the region were beginning to worry about running out of money for federally-funded programs.”

On Jan. 25, 2019, President Donald Trump and Congress came to an agreement to end the shutdown. However, the deal is only a short-term solution that keeps the government operational until Feb. 15. Unless funding is allocated for the construction of a wall on the U.S. southern border — one of Trump’s marquee campaign promises — it is likely that Trump will trigger another shutdown.

Griffin named the Women, Infants, and Children service, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Section 8 housing vouchers as some of the impacted programsin the area. 

“We saw a lot of these agencies having to go into potential crisis management mode in anticipation that they might see their federal funds disappear,” she said. “I don’t know if any of them actually saw their funds disappear, but we’re very worried that if the shutdown continues into month two that they would suddenly lose access to money which they provide to clients on behalf of the federal government particularly involving food and fuel assistance.”

Griffin said that Hanover does not have a plan for addressing another government shutdown.

“In the event the federally-funded programs are more depleted because the government was shut down, of necessity, cities and towns would have to dip into their own coffers to provide welfare assistance,” she said.

However, Griffin added that the town does not appropriate funds to deal with such federal funding crises.

“We didn’t appropriate money for that purpose, so we would essentially be dipping into our reserves to help those folks while waiting for the federal programs to be reinstated and the agencies to receive any backlogged funds,” she said.

Regardless, Griffin said she is not concerned about Hanover’s situation.

“Hanover is in a pretty good position in that we have a very small welfare caseload,” she said. “Some of the surrounding cities that have a much larger welfare caseload ... would be in a much more significant world of hurt because they’re helping so many more people than we see in Hanover.”

Griffin named Claremont, Concord, Lebanon, Littleton and Manchester as examples of towns that might be more burdened by another shutdown. She said that some of these towns have welfare budgets in excess of $500,000, which dwarf Hanover’s $20,000 budget.

“I think the federal shutdown is creating some anxiety in the larger community,” executive director of the Upper Valley Haven Michael Redmond said. “We saw some increases in the use of services [during the shutdown], but I couldn’t say that it was people impacted by the loss of a job. I think it was more the general economy and general anxiety.”

In preparation of another shutdown on Feb. 15, Redmond said that a group of concerned Upper Valley residents has been formed to find solutions to funding cuts.

“Last Friday there was a meeting of about 50 to 60 people who are connected to organizations that serve people with economic challenges to try and start that planning,” he said. “We are going to be meeting weekly to keep track of what’s happening at the federal government level.”

Redmond said that the group has discussed plans to increase budgets for food purchases and strategies to raise more money for services.

“What do we need to do to rally the community the way it has been done in the past when there’s been some type of emergency?” he said. “More typically it’s been natural disasters, but here we have a man-made disaster.”

Redmond added that even if the government does not shut down again, the fear of cuts to funding could impact social service recipients in the Upper Valley. Specifically, he mentioned that communities may prepare for another government shutdown by changing the food stamp distribution schedule, which could adversely impact beneficiaries.

However, according to College Republicans vice president Daniel Bring ’21, there is a strong chance the shutdown could recommence on Feb. 15.

“I believe another shutdown is likely if the Democrats are not able to set down their newly-discovered open borders ideology and work with the President,” Bring said.

Both Griffin and Redmond said they hope Bring is wrong.

“This is legislation that should be negotiated in a regular course of business, not used as leverage to achieve an end,” Redmond said. “It could affect millions of people, far beyond those who work directly for the government.”

He added that risking people’s livelihoods is “entirely unnecessary.”

“It would be really frustrating if we get to three weeks from now and the government closure were to be implemented,” Griffin said. “Enough already. Using so many people and programs as pawns is just crazy.”