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Federal shutdown threatens Utah food stamps, WIC programs

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 9:49 a.m. MDT

Vanessa Serrato holds her niece Sofia Uriarte at the Salt Lake County Health Department South Main WIC Clinic in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. In the background is Vanessa's sister and Sofia's mother, Saira Uriarte. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Vanessa Serrato holds her niece Sofia Uriarte at the Salt Lake County Health Department South Main WIC Clinic in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. In the background is Vanessa's sister and Sofia's mother, Saira Uriarte. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah would have to stop issuing food stamps to about 100,000 needy families if the federal government shutdown continues past October.

Also, the Women, Infants and Children program, already running on emergency funds, will be out of money at the end of month, leaving 66,000 mothers and children without food and formula.

WIC and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are among several program in five state agencies that would be in trouble if Congress doesn't resolve the federal budget impasse, state lawmakers were told Tuesday.

In addition, another 600 to 625 state employees who work in federally funded programs could be furloughed in the next 30 to 60 days.

"We're only looking at the first tier of this dastardly problem that has happened to us," said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City. "It saddens me beyond belief that this has happened to us."

The Utah Department of Workforce Services has enough reserves to run all of its programs except for food stamps, said Geoff Landward, deputy director.

"That's our primary concern right now," he said. "Hopefully, we can weather this storm."

Landward said the federally funded program will be out of money at the end of the month. It issues $30 million in benefits each month and costs about $2 million month to run. Participants receive an average of about $300 per household, department spokesman Nic Dunn said.

"We are planning for every contingency but optimistic for a resolution," Dunn said.

If benefits are frozen, demands on local food pantries will likely escalate, he said. Donations to the Utah Food Bank, which serves food pantries statewide, are "encouraged and appreciated," Dunn said.

WIC, which is administered by the state health department, received $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to carry it through October. Shari Watkins, health department finance director, said WIC would only be able to cover prescription formula costs of about $60,000 a month.

The department would be forced to furlough 286 workers if the shutdown goes another two weeks, she said.

The state Office of Rehabilitation Services also would shutter its vocational rehab program and disability determination services, putting people out of work, said Russ Thelin, the agency's director. Vocational rehab, which served 31,000 residents last year, has money to run through Nov. 8, he said.

The Utah National Guard closed its family support program, which serves the families of 200 deployed soldiers, including 13 who left Tuesday morning, said Gen. Dallen Atack, assistant adjutant general. Overburdened active-duty soldiers are currently running it, he said.

The Guard also has a cash flow problem, Atack said. The federal government is reimbursing it for operating costs but not for personnel, he said. Currently, 181 of 252 employees are on furlough.

The Utah Labor Commission has some reserve funds, but would furlough 38 workers if the shutdown continues to Nov. 4, said Commissioner Sherrie Hayashi.

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