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Union County Meals on Wheels volunteer Sharon Evoy, left, delivers a meal to Lea Lippert of La Grande Thursday. A lengthy federal government shutdown could jeopardize the local Meals on Wheels program. (Phil Bullock/The Observer)
Extended federal government shutdown could endanger Meals on Wheels, WIC
The Union County Meals on Wheels program serves up to 70 meals each day it’s open. Meals are taken to homebound residents, often elderly and sick people, who cannot prepare their own meals.
The local Meals on Wheels program, run by Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, served 1,144 meals in September. If Congress does not pass a budget and get the government going by the end of the month, those meals could be in jeopardy.
Carmen Gentry, Community Connection’s food bank manager, said all food assistance programs are functioning as normal for now and funding has been allocated through October.
“If there does become an issue with funding for our Meals on Wheels program, we will be going to the community to help us fund this service,” Gentry said. “Meals on Wheels participants are one of the highest risk groups we serve. They are people who can’t leave their homes due to severe health problems.”
Many programs run by Community Connection that receive federal funding are in the same boat.
“As soon as we get word on the impact this will have, we will be hitting the ground running to make up what we can to keep vital programs going for our county,” Gentry said.
The uncertainty of funding after October isn’t limited to Community Connection.
Patty Rudd, the Center for Human Development’s Women, Infants and Children program coordinator, says they have funding to keep the program running for about a month, but that after that it’s “up in the air.”
Commonly known as WIC, the program provides vouchers for healthy foods, breastfeeding help and information on nutrition, prenatal care and more.
Rudd said 882 Union County residents are enrolled in WIC.
“We have a lot of families that need it,” Rudd said.
For the time being, though, Oregon’s WIC program is running as usual. WIC-authorized stores should continue to accept WIC checks, and those eligible can still be enrolled.
A similar story is heard at the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority, where October Section 8 payments have been approved and funded.
“Landowners have their checks in the mail,” said Dale Inslee, the authority’s executive director.
Section 8 funds are used to make payments to private landlords for rental housing assistance on behalf of low-income families.
Inslee said that federal representatives have not yet notified them of a plan for November, though.
“After that it affects our operations and may affect our staffing,” he said.
In the four-county region covered by the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority, 710 families have approved vouchers. Inslee said Housing Assistance Payments total about $250,000 a month to private landlords.
Though those funds have been approved through December, Inslee’s concern is that the Department of Housing and Urban Development may not have the staff to disburse the funds.
For those facing the uncertainty and what ifs of a continued shutdown, they’re just hoping for one thing: approved funding as soon as possible.
Head Start, transit program safe
Eastern Oregon University Head Start, which covers centers in Union and Baker counties, will continue to provide preschool services to 177 students.
Director Jan Goodrick said they don’t run on same schedule as the federal fiscal year, so their funding is secure.
“We have already been funded and we can continue to draw down payments,” she said.
Goodrick said 23 programs that she’s aware of have been negatively impacted by the shutdown.
“We felt very lucky,” she said.
Frank Thomas, Union County transit manager, said they, too, operate on a different schedule when they seek reimbursements. Thomas said they do not expect to run into any problems unless the shutdown extends for several months.