NC poverty program suspended because of federal shutdown

rchristensen@newsobserver.comOctober 14, 2013 

  • Food banks benefit from donations

    North Carolina food banks are getting some help from some deep pockets to meet increasing needs, in part because of the federal shutdown.

    Gov. Pat McCrory went to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Charlotte on Monday to announce the state would distribute $750,000 to the seven regional food banks that are part of the N.C. Association of Feeding America’s Food Banks. The money is an advance on the the $3 million appropriation for food banks included in the state budget.

    Meanwhile, Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office announced that it was giving $2 million to the Food Bank of Eastern and Central NC to distribute to other food banks statewide. The money comes from settlements Cooper’s office has made with food and pharmaceutical companies.

    McCrory was joined by DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, State Budget Director Art Pope and Frank Perry, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety.

    “My top concern is that, as the shutdown lingers, there will be hardship for those who depend on these services,” Wos said in a statement.

    The food banks already have seen increased demand. This past summer, problems with NCFast, the state program to distribute food aid, led to delays in families receiving benefits. And now the federal shutdown, which has led to furloughed government workers and disrupted state aid, is complicating the picture.

    Cooper’s announcement noted that 1 in 5 North Carolinians lack access to enough food, including more than 1 in 4 children younger than 5.

    In 2011, the attorney general awarded $741,220 to the state’s food banks as part of a price-fixing settlement with major vitamin manufacturers, and $100,000 in 2004 as part of another settlement.

    “We’re investing in our food banks to help struggling families and encourage others to get involved by donating or volunteering in their local communities,” Cooper said in a statement.

    From staff reports

— North Carolina on Monday suspended its Work First program, formerly known as welfare, because of the federal shutdown in Washington.

County social service agencies stopped processing new applications for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families because federal monies are expected to dry up by November unless Congress can reach a deal for funding the federal government.

The Department of Health and Human Services sent out a letter Thursday to county social service directors telling them to stop processing new applications as well as re-certifications for November.

“We will be unable to make any Work First Family Assistance payments in November 2013 unless a continuing resolution or compromise on federal funding has been reached by the federal government,” wrote Wayne Black director of the division of Social Services.

Those who are already signed up for the short-term assistance program will receive their October checks.

TANF is the second major federally funded social services program in North Carolina to feel the effect of the government shutdown. Last week, DHHS became the only such state agency in the country to suspend its federally funded food program for low income mothers and babies – called the WIC program – only to reverse itself when the state budget director Art Pope said there was money available.

The only state that has withheld TANF checks since the shutdown is Arizona. But after her administration was sharply criticized for not tapping into the state’s rainy day fund, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, redirected $650,000 in state funds to keep the program going through October.

Officials in Michigan have warned that funding for their TANF program would soon run out.

There are 20,709 North Carolina residents in the TANF program – 6,948 parents of dependent children and 13,761 children who live with someone other than a parent. In September, the program cost $4.7 million in federal funds in North Carolina.

The state started the Work First program in 1995 after Congress passed welfare reform. The program provides short-term training, cash, child care referrals and other services to help parents become employed, and it usually provides assistance for only two years.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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