Local municipal leaders aren’t hitting the panic button just yet, but they’re concerned about what will happen if the federal government shutdown lasts longer than a week.
“Our poorest communities. They’re the ones who are going to feel the hit first,” Jim Finley, CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said Wednesday. He made the remarks at the organization’s annual convention where there were more than 120 mayors and first selectmen.
The Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program and federally funded housing vouchers for low-income families are just a few of the federally funded programs impacted by the shutdown. These programs are funded with federal dollars that flow directly to the local community.
For example, the WIC program gives supplemental food assistance to more than 58,000 low-income pregnant women, mothers, and children in Connecticut.
“If that money flow stops they have to make a decision whether to furlough those employees or cover their salaries with local revenues and that’s going to be a tough decision for some communities,” Finley said.
Local elected officials said there’s no way they could even begin to think about funding the program with local tax dollars because there’s just not enough of a cushion in their budgets or their tax base.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said they hope it doesn’t come to that.
“After 30 days it becomes very difficult,” Segarra said. “We’ve already been under pressure from the feds because of sequestration to reduce expenses in several categories.”
He said when it comes to Section 8 housing vouchers, they’ve already been asked to eliminate 250 vouchers from the program by attrition. He said they do have some reserves to fund the slots they have been unable to eliminate, “so it’s a lot a maneuvering and contingency planning.”
Oddly, Segarra is going to Washington on Thursday to testify in front of the National Parks Committee about the status of adding Coltsville to the national park system. He said the Congressman from Utah who heads the National Parks Committee contacted him to let him know they would be proceeding with the hearing.
But at least one workshop at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities annual convention was canceled because the federal administrators who were asked to speak were furloughed.
What about the other federal agencies and grants?
Finch said his city was awarded an $11 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday for its newest inter-district magnet school. But whether the money is on its way is unclear. Finch said “nobody has any clue, if and when we’re ever going to get it.”
He’s not alone.
“A number of communities always have something in the pipeline in regard to federal grants and stuff, so right now the federal grant review process is frozen and nothing is happening,” Finley said.
He said the liaisons at these agencies have been furloughed, making it difficult for local officials to get any information about their grants.
Monroe First Selectman Steve Vavrek said his community, along with Newtown, recently received a COPS grant from the U.S. Justice Department to help fund security efforts, but he has no idea if the money will ever arrive and he has no way of checking up on it. The students from Sandy Hook Elementary School who were displaced after last year’s shooting were relocated to a vacant school in Monroe.
Finch said after 30 days if you felt it was necessary to supplant the federal funds with local tax dollars in order to maintain the programs, you could ask for a mid-term tax increase, “but that would be like slitting your wrists.”
“Cities don’t have the ability to pay,” Finch said.
He said local government is much different than federal government because local government can’t shut down.
“There are no Tea Party mayors,” Finch said. “You can’t hate government and want it shut down and run for mayor or first selectman . . . What we do is not about ideology. What we do is about basic services for people.”