While health centers, the Veterans Administration and critical food assistance programs will continue to provide services while the federal government is shutdown, some are unsure how long it can last. Funds are in place for the month of October in many departments, but a prolonged shutdown would change the financial equation.
Take California’s Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program, which provides healthy food vouchers to 1.45-million low-income residents at 650 sites in California. Unlike some states, WIC in California is federally funded, but administered and operated by the state, so employees will continue to work during the shutdown at least through October. Because WIC is listed as a “non-essential service” government program, its funding could be threatened should the shutdown persist.
“The California WIC program has funds available to continue to operate normally through October,” California’s WIC website stated. “All efforts will be made to ensure that the women and children enrolled in WIC will continue to receive vouchers for food.”
The same is true for the Veterans Administration, whose website states, “Claims, processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”
Valley veteran Jim Poore, who is active with Sonoma County VetConnect, a nonprofit organization that aids veterans with everything from job placement to mental health services, said as far as he’s heard, veterans should not be impacted.
“They fund the VA a year in advance,” Poore said, confirming that he got his VA check on schedule Oct. 1. “The best information I have is that the VA won’t be affected.”
Gary Magnani, post commander of Sonoma’s American Legion, said he hadn’t heard any queries from Valley veterans regarding the shutdown. But he warned that local veterans would make their opinions known should the shutdown persist to the point that it affects veterans’ benefits.
“You don’t mess with veterans’ money, that’s all they have in some cases,” he said. “If they don’t get their money, they’ll start burning buildings, and you can quote me on that.”
But don’t bother calling the VA’s help center to ask questions – no one will be there to answer. The same is true of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which has shuttered all of its call centers during the shutdown, as well as its local headquarters in Santa Rosa. However, for anyone who filed for an extension in April, taxes are still due on Oct. 15, and penalties will be assessed to those who file late. Tax refunds, on the other hand, will be delayed until the shutdown is over.
Closure of the IRS will be felt in the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which oversees federal housing loans. Because the IRS reviews portions of loan applications, loan processing may be delayed for the coming weeks. About 15 percent of Americans buying homes utilize FHA’s loan programs.
Sonoma Valley Hospital and the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center will not be affected by the shutdown, officials said. Because 48 percent of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is still functioning as an “essential need,” basic medical programs will continue as usual, including Medicare and Medicaid.