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How will the shutdown impact The Salvation Army?

By Christin Davis

On Oct. 1, the federal government shutdown for the first time since 1996. Some effects are clear—over 400 National Park Service sites are closed and “non-excepted” (i.e. non-essential) federal employees are on furlough, but what is the impact on The Salvation Army?

“Most of our programs are not immediately affected because we are operating on grants and contracts from the FY 2012 and FY 2013 national budgets,” said Major Sherry McWhorter, Southern California divisional secretary for social services. “The impacts won’t really be felt until those grants begin expiring, and hopefully there will be Congressional action before then to get funds rolling again.”

Long-term flood relief in Galena, Alaska, for example, continues uninterrupted, according to Major Nila Fankhauser, social services consultant.

“Because what they are working on is a declared disaster they are exempt and currently have everything that they need,” Fankhauser said of the relief efforts.

Not all government services come to a stop in a shutdown—Social Security checks are mailed, the U.S. military continues to operate, and those in charge of safety, like air traffic control, keep working. Unemployment benefits and food stamps will also continue, since the funding was approved in earlier bills.

If the shutdown lasts for more than two to three weeks, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has said that it may not have enough money to pay disability claims and pension payments, which could affect some 3.6 million veterans.

“The biggest issue for folks that we work with is that there’s already a huge delay in processing of disability claims,” said Rick Stoller, director of the Veterans Family Center in Beaverton, Ore. “All veterans that come to us are referred by the VA. If this is a prolonged thing, our monthly billing could be impacted by the furlough of civilian employees who are contracted to process billing…even if payments are delayed, we’re not in danger of closing the doors.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will not be interrupted, but the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which helps pregnant women and new moms buy healthy food and provides nutritional information and health care referrals will not receive funds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that most states can fund this program for a week, but they’ll “likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period.”

The Northwest Division is anticipating a possible increase in requests for assistance.

“There will be layoffs or suspensions of some federal employees, as well as state employees…Unemployment checks may be suspended depending how long this goes on,” said Tom Walker, Northwest divisional social services secretary. “All that may increase demand at food banks.”

Walker said the division has experienced a huge demand in requests for basic assistance in the past three years.

“We’re working at 110 percent capacity,” he said. Service units have increased hours, and the division’s largest food bank is now distributing food seven days a week.

“We had to increase our effort in soliciting food, and the response from donors has been so good that we have tremendous gift in kind to be able to give out,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect [of the shutdown] at this point…It’s the beginning of our fiscal year, so we have some flexibility and could conceivably spend up front a greater proportion of the funds budgeted for assistance this year. We would then have less later in the year and would have to do additional fundraising, but we have the capacity in terms of staff and facility to respond to increased demand, should that happen.”

Major Lawrence Shiroma, territorial social services secretary in the West, confirmed that at this point in time, there is no direct impact on Salvation Army programs and services.

“Often times we are already stretched to a limit in providing financial assistance to people,” Shiroma said. “It may be that we need to turn to our communities for additional help if this continues.”

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