If federal shutdown lingers, county programs could be affected

Toward the end of the Chisago County Board of Commissioner’s meeting Oct. 2, County Administrator Bruce Messelt gave the board an update on the possible effects on the county if the government shutdown isn’t resolved in the coming weeks.

Thankfully, he said, the county is fairly “well insulated” against a federal shutdown because it doesn’t rely on much federal funding to perform the majority of its operations.

However, there is a program that could suffer if the shutdown lasts more than a few weeks: The Women, Infants & Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program.

WIC is a program available in counties across the U.S. that receives federal funding; it focuses primarily on nutrition education for recent and expectant mothers who are struggling financially.

In Chisago County, 760 women and children under the age of 5 are part of the program, WIC coordinator Dawn Liemandt said.

“The whole goal of WIC is good nutrition and healthy habits,” Liemandt said.

She noted that education on breast-feeding — offered to clients by lactation specialists — is also an integral part of the program because breast-feeding is linked to a host of positive effects related to infant development.

“Maternal child health nurses are also available to provide support in the home,” she added.

Liemandt said the Minnesota website for the WIC program, www.health.state.mn.us/divs/fh/wic, states there is enough money to keep the program going for a “few weeks,” but if that money runs out, she’s not sure exactly what would happen.

“Fifty percent of young children in the U.S. are on WIC,” Liemandt said. “It’s going to affect a lot of people if WIC funding is cut.”


Looking further down the road

Although Messelt said the federal government shutdown shouldn’t have much of an effect on county operations, the sting could be felt if the shutdown endures.

“The longer this goes on, the more it will impact normal annual grants, such as, in the areas we are aware of: emergency preparedness, public health, economic development and then potentially some areas of public safety that do get some federal funds,” Messelt said. “If it goes longer into a granting cycle, then it could be a very significant impact.”

But Messelt said he doesn’t foresee the government shutdown lasting long enough to impact grants.

“We’re talking months (for the granting cycle to be affected), but the word on the street seems to be weeks,” he said. “It appears that there is going to be this massive showdown in two weeks and there will be a little bit of gamesmanship, and they’re going to let the shutdown run into the debt ceiling — you’re going to see a grand game of chicken, and we’re going to be the carnage on the road after a collision occurs.”

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