(Updated 4:23 p.m.) It’s been nine days since the federal government shutdown and the reality that it will continue has Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state officials concerned.
Texas philanthropists stepped in with $10 million to temporarily save seven Head Start programs in six states, including the one in Bridgeport that serves more than 1,200 children and families. But it’s unclear if the nonprofit that administers the program would be able to accept the money and, if it did, would the federal government reimburse it once the shutdown ends?
The Head Start program in Bridgeport is run by Action for Bridgeport Community Development and it was the only Head Start program to hesitate.
William Bevacqua, assistant to the executive director at ABCD, said while they appreciated the offer it had certain “misgivings” about the money from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Specifically they were afraid it wouldn’t cover all the monthly expenses and it may not reach them quickly enough to immediately serve the 1,245 children.
At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Malloy announced the state would be releasing $800,000 in state funding to the organization. The amount is about the same amount it would receive from the federal government. The $800,000 state allocation is what the state gives to the program throughout the course of the year.
The $800,000 “ would be a God-send and it would cover the totality of our expenses,” Bevacqua said.
Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association, commended Malloy’s decision.
“We are immensely grateful; together these angels have ensured vulnerable children do not miss out on a single day of Head Start’s vital early learning services while the federal government is shut down,” Vinci said. “It is clear, however, that these short-term measures are unsustainable.”
As for other programs, the state has enough money to continue funding benefits for the Women, Infant, and Children’s program which serves 58,000 women and children and gives out 220,000 food benefit checks totaling $3.5 million a month. And while there was initially some concern that there wouldn’t be enough funding to pay employees who administer the benefits, the state has been given assurances from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the positions will be funded through the end of the month.
“It’s apparent this may go on for some period of time,” Malloy said. “Even if the debt ceiling is resolved.”
He said the state is doing an analysis of all of the programs and the populations at the greatest risk if the programs no longer exist. The programs the state is focused on serve women, children, and the elderly.
Last week, state agencies submitted information to Malloy’s budget office outlining the various federal programs they administer and the number of state employees paid partially with federal grants. Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes instructed state agencies on Oct. 1 that refilling positions paid for with federal funds, or the release of federal funds by his office, will be done on a case-by-case basis.
Also, while the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — will continue to be funded through the month of October, it’s still unknown what would happen to that program during a prolonged shutdown. The U.S.D.A handles the program and reported that about $2 billion in contingency funding will be available and could be used to support state administrative activities.
Connecticut’s Social Services Department also estimated that the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program carried over enough money, about $7.4 million from last year, to cover the first fuel delivery to low-income households before Nov. 15, but nothing more. The federal government gave the state about $76 million last year to run the program and this year’s amount was expected to be about the same.
Since those reports were released by the state agencies little has changed.
The state currently has a $4.4 million surplus and Malloy said the state will look at that but ultimately “these are all responsibilities of the federal government.”
As for the shutdown, Malloy had some harsh words for House Republicans.
“I think the tyranny of the minority has got to end,” Malloy said of the gridlock in Washington. “The idea that one party literally gets to hold it’s breath and turn blue and threaten to shoot its own dog unless it gets what it wants is unacceptable in our democracy.”
He maintained that “guilt for this is not equally distributed.” He said that the Affordable Care Act is the “law of the land and unless you repeal it you have no right to be doing what you’re doing.”
House Republicans have tied changes to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to a continuing resolution that would fund the government until the end of the year.
Malloy said he believes it’s a “wholesale attempt” by Republicans to weaken the power of the presidency.