SALT LAKE CITY — Call it the double whammy.
Clients of Catholic Community Services of Utah are largely low-income, and many rely on various government assistance programs.
As a direct service nonprofit organization, the agency relies heavily on federal funding for many of its programs, which include resettling refugees, residential substance abuse treatment and serving meals at its downtown dining hall seven days a week.
“Obviously, most of our clients are eligible for and do receive government benefits, including WIC (Women, Infant and Children nutrition benefits), and it’s all across the board," said Danielle Stamos, spokeswoman for Catholic Community Services. "If they don’t receive those benefits, we expect them to be accessing our services and programs even more. With less resources, how are we going to meet a greater demand?”
If the shutdown continues, CCS will review its programs, services and available funding and resources.
“It may result in scaling back or eventual closures, depending on what is decided,” Stamos said.
At the Utah Food Bank, officials were conducting conference calls Wednesday to assess the best course of action if the shutdown of the federal government lingers.
“For a few days, we're just kind of looking at business as usual. I think we need to figure out what the Washington scenario is really going to pan out to be,” said Ginette Bott, chief marketing officer of the Utah Food Bank.
WIC vouchers issued for October will be honored, so that will buy some time to develop contingency plans should the need arise, Bott said.
For instance, the Utah Food Bank could leverage its buying power to purchase certain items such as infant formula using funds from local governments.
In the meantime, the food bank is referring people to the United Way’s 211 Volunteer Coordinating Network, which directs callers to assistance in their neighborhood.
“Right now, it’s kind of wait and see for a couple of days, but we certainly need to be prepared,” Bott said.
In the meantime, major stakeholders have been exchanging information, she said.
“The success of this will be all of us working together,” Bott said.
Salt Lake County will keep WIC clinics open for a week, mostly to ensure that very frail newborns can receive the specialty infant formulas they need.
The County Council, which took emergency action to provide local funds to keep six clinics open, may revisit the issue at its meeting Tuesday, depending on what the federal government decides, Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp said.
"We're hoping to have a bigger and better solution from the federal government before that," Rupp said.
Meanwhile, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ welfare system “is in place to provide assistance and aid to people in need at any time, regardless of economic challenges,” church spokeswoman Ruth Todd said.
Catholic Community Services needs the assistance of donors and volunteers to weather this latest challenge, Stamos said.
Financial contributions are welcome, but in-kind donations such as food, infant formula, baby food, diapers and infant clothing are also needed. For information on how to help, call 801-977-9119 or visit www.ccsutah.org.
How long the government shutdown will last is unknown, but depending on one’s circumstances, even a day or two without access to federal government services can make life difficult, Stamos said.
CCS is one of two refugee resettlement agencies in Utah. A newly arrived refugee who cannot obtain his or her Social Security card has to postpone seeking employment.
“If they can’t start working today, that does create a long-term problem. One or two days means a lot to a lot of people,” Stamos said.
Utahns can also help, she said, by contacting their elected officials “and letting them know of the negative impact this is having on our community and millions of individuals and families (nationwide). For them, this is a real-life crisis, not something they just see in the news.”
Romey Whitset, who is from North Carolina and has been homeless for 15 months, said the government shutdown will further stress homeless and low-income families.
“The ones I do know have been here awhile. There are some of them who are really trying hard to get situated because they have children,” he said.
As Whitset looks for work, he is giving back by volunteering at CCS’s Weigand Center.
The infighting in Congress is frustrating when the needs of many families are so great, he said.
“They need to get off their butts and do what’s right, stop politicking and get relational, get family-oriented," Whitset said. "God is the god of this country. Let’s get back to that. Let’s start from where we are now and straighten things out.”
Bott said a lengthy government shutdown is “scary prospect when we think of all of the government programs that are truly the link of getting products to people. When those aren’t available, all of us need to have an incredible amount of concern,” she said.
“Anytime kids are involved, a hungry child is just gut-wrenching to me,” Bott said.
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