Published time: October 16, 2013 19:13
A view of the skyline of Charlotte, North Carolina (AFP Photo / Mladen Antonov)
The government shutdown can’t end soon enough for poor residents in North Carolina, as the state has become the first in the country to cut off welfare benefits due to gridlock in Washington.
The decision came from North Carolina’s Department of Health and
Human Services (HHS), which ordered its local offices on Oct. 10
to stop processing applications for November until the federal
government is back up and running.
The state’s welfare program, called “Work First,” services more
than 20,000 people, primarily children, and requires participants
to reapply for benefits every month. Work First is funded
entirely by the federal government, and helps poor residents
purchase food and other supplies necessary for day-to-day life.
Yet Work First isn’t the only North Carolina service hampered by
the government shutdown. According to Reuters, other programs
will also be affected, including one that provides child care
subsidies covering more than 70,000 children. In various parts of
the state, the delivery of those subsidies has already come to a
“I would say this is an emergency,” Alexandra Sirota,
director of the low-income advocacy group North Carolina Budget
and Tax Center, told Reuters. “They’re cutting off a lifeline
for thousands of North Carolina families who have experienced
Critics of the state’s decision point out that Work First only
cost $4.8 million in September, a small number compared to the
$650 million “rainy day” fund North Carolina has set aside in
case of emergencies. They argue that the reason for stopping
programs like Work First is not necessarily based on the
shutdown, but on politics.
North Carolina’s HHS department, however, doesn’t agree.
“We are heavily dependent on federal dollars,” state HHS
spokeswoman Julie Henry told Reuters. “When these kinds of
things happen at the federal level, it has an immediate
Work First applications will still be accepted by local officials
in the meantime. Processing will simply be delayed until
Democrats and Republicans reach an agreement to end the shutdown.
Many reports suggest a deal is imminent.
This isn’t the first time North Carolina has considered halting
social services. Last week, the state contemplated ending its WIC
program as the government shutdown dragged on, potentially
hurting poor women and children who rely on the service to
purchase baby food and formula. The decision never formally went
through, and the program has continued uninterrupted since.