County services suffer if shutdown drags on
Salt Lake County government can withstand the partial federal shutdown without much impact this month.
But if the congressional budget stalemate extends into November, the county could encounter problems filling the needs of tens of thousands of low-income mothers and their children in the federal Women, Infants and Children program, county human services director Lori Bays said Tuesday.
All other federally funded, county-operated programs have money through the end of December. But if the showdown goes into 2014, administrative service director Jill Carter noted, several county divisions face cutbacks.
At that point, Carter said, a federal-funding cutoff would mean the loss of some 344 county employees, affecting severalprograms, ranging from health to youth services.
The cost to the county's budget, she added, would be about $309,000 a week.
Hardest hit would be the county health department, which would lose 172 employees and roughly $200,000. Aging services would lose 138.5 employees and $38,400. Much smaller impacts would be felt in youth services, the county district attorney's office and community resources and development, Carter said.
To prepare for that possibility, she is working with the district attorney to develop a furlough policy. The county is not authorized to furlough federally funded employees at present, Carter said, and other options such as a reduction in force are undesirable for employees and the county.
Bays praised the County Council for acting quickly last week when it became apparent that, in the county, about 25,000 needy women and their young children would be cut off from WIC in October. The council responded with an appropriation of $137,500 $62,500 for food and $75,000 for county personnel to keep six valley clinics open for another week.
That funding kept the operation going through the week, when the state got a $2.5 million federal grant to keep WIC functioning.
"Funding is there for staff only through the end of October," Bays said. "Money for food vouchers will last through the third week of November. So our next hurdle is if the federal government isn't working by the end of October."
She said the county spent half the $62,500 set aside for food. Infant formula and other vital foodstuffs were delivered Monday to the Utah Food Bank. Bays expects the federal government to reimburse much of the $75,000 for staff salaries when the standoff is resolved, but has nothing in writing to confirm that.
Salt Lake County's finances are in good order, with no material weaknesses or serious deficiencies, according to an annual audit delivered this week by the certified public accounting firm Squire & Co.
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