If the government shutdown lasts much longer, food programs intended to help women and children could run out of funding

(Rogelio V. Solis | AP file photo) In this 2013 file photo, grocery bags loaded with food from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, sit in a cart before being loaded into a vehicle in Jackson, Miss. Despite a partial shutdown of the federal government that year, Mississippi got permission to keep operating WIC through October. While Utah has decided it can weather this year's federal shutdown through January, federal funds for the Utah Women, Infants and Children Program and for the National School Lunch Program could dry up if it lasts longer than that.

A state budget analysis has concluded Utah can weather the federal government shutdown through January without too much trouble.

But things could get challenging if the closures go on longer than that, according to Kristen Cox, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

With an extended shutdown comes the prospect of federal funds drying up for the Utah Women, Infants and Children Program and for the National School Lunch Program, which feeds children at nearly 1,000 Utah schools.

However, Cox said she’s optimistic that the nation’s leaders will find a way to end the partial shutdown before hitting these tipping points.

"I'm crossing my fingers that through the month of January, they can figure this stuff out," Cox said Thursday.

The state budget office this week finished taking stock of how the ongoing impasse in the nation’s capital could affect state agencies through Jan. 15 and through the month’s end, she said.

For the most part, she said, the state hasn’t felt a federal funding vacuum, except when it comes to Utah’s five national parks.

Cox said the state spent about $55,000 on maintaining Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks through December. In partnership with private groups and local officials, the state is prepared to devote another $25,000 to Zion and Bryce Canyon through Jan. 15, she said. The money isn’t going to the three other parks because snow is limiting access to them, she said.

The WIC program, which provides food assistance to lower-income mothers and their babies, currently serves more than 45,700 Utahns at a cost of about $2.3 million each month, according to a spokesman for the Utah Department of Health.

Federal funds to support WIC should last for another four to six weeks but the program is vulnerable if the shutdown lingers into February, Cox said.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and other federally-funded child nutrition programs are also safe into next month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said. One in six Utah children lives with food insecurity, and to address this need, the NSLP dished up more than 54 million lunches to students at 968 schools in the last fiscal year, the Utah State Board of Education reported.

Cox said if federal dollars run out for the WIC and child nutrition programs, the state could step into the breach by drawing from its rainy day fund. Her office will continue evaluating the shutdown repercussions in the weeks to come, if the D.C. stalemate lasts that long.

“If we get to the point where the federal funds run out, we’ll have to discuss with the legislative leadership how we want to use rainy day balances to backfill,” she said.

However, the government shutdown — precipitated by a standoff between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump over funding for a border wall — has rippled out to other corners of Utah.

Antonio Ramirez, spokesman for the Navajo Nation president’s office, said the shutdown could eventually impact everything from education to health care. So far, the biggest problem has been dealing with the snowstorm that hit the nation in December.

“Between the shutdown and Dec. 31, the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] was not working on any of the roads,” Ramirez said. “In the more rural areas, some of the roads have been impassable.”

Over the past few days, BIA crews have tried to clear roads of snow and ice, and Ramirez said they’re expected to wrap up soon. With another snowfall expected Sunday, the nation is still unsure whether the bureau will help dig out the roads again, he said.

The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation has so far been largely unscathed by the federal impasse but would feel the pain if federal funding for health, education or housing programs gets held up, said the nation’s chairman, Darren Parry.

And forecasting how an extended shutdown could affect the nation is difficult, since no one is answering the phone at the Bureau of Indian Affairs office, he said.

“Their office is shut down,” he said. “My updates are coming from Twitter. How bad is that?”

On Wednesday, nearly two weeks into the federal government shutdown, Salt Lake City announced its public utilities watershed rangers would be maintaining public restrooms in the Central Wasatch canyons as the federal shutdown continues. The task normally falls to the Salt Lake Ranger District, but these employees have been furloughed during the closure, according to a news release.