Shutdown Showdown

At the time of this writing, we are heading into the longest government shutdown in history.  While technically it is a partial shutdown with nine federal government agencies and various independent agencies closed, the impact is being fully felt for hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors who aren’t being paid, and may not receive back pay.  It is unclear how long the shutdown will last, but we do know that the longer it lasts the greater the consequences it has for local Goodwill® organizations, their employees, and individuals and families who receive various services.

Due to the nature of the shutdown, certain programs are being impacted in different ways.  Here are some specifics:

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF): The shutdown has halted federal spending for the TANF block grant, but this does not interrupt TANF benefits.  The block grant funds cash assistance, job training and other services for low-income families.  Local Goodwill organizations may be recipients of such funding and will have to find funds elsewhere if they are to continue to provide such services.  TANF is funded through a mix of federal and state funds, so states can continue to provide benefits and services using state funds or unspent previously appropriated federal funds. However states are in danger of running out of funds at different times.

Medicare: Under current law, if the shutdown extends past January 24, the Office of Management and Budget would be forced to cut at least $839 million from nonexempt programs across the government.  About 90 percent of the cuts, or $753 million, would come from Medicare, the major health insurance program for the elderly, which would be a surprise to hospitals, doctors and other stakeholders who would see their Medicare reimbursements cut.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) which oversees SNAP stated that individuals will continue to receive assistance through February, but could not guarantee those benefits if the shutdown lasts until March.  The Department is issuing money to states to cover February’s food stamps, but states have to ask for the money to be allocated earlier than they normally would.  According to the USDA website, the office in charge of SNAP has sent home 95 percent of its employees without pay during the shutdown.

Tax Refunds: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) expects to open the filing season on Jan. 28 and pay taxpayers their refunds.  However, experts are worried that there will not be enough staff available to address questions from taxpayers as they file. This is troubling as it is the first tax filing season since the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which made a number of changes to the tax code.

AbilityOne: Many local Goodwill organizations participate in the AbilityOne program, a federal initiative to help people who are blind or have other significant disabilities find employment through a national network of nonprofit agencies that contract with the federal government. Because of the shutdown, over 2,000 people with disabilities in the network have been impacted. This number will continue to grow until the shutdown ends. These dedicated employees also fear that they will be forgotten as Congress provides back-pay for their federal employee counterparts.

While the government shutdown features partisan posturing, people in the communities Goodwill serves continue to need help overcoming their employment challenges. Take action  via GII’s Legislative Action Center and tell Congress to put people over politics and urge them to reach an agreement to reopen the government (Goodwill CEOs click here).