Many services continue apace. Agencies have used reserves, contingency funds and declarations of essential purpose to keep going. Some agencies stay open with money from user fees. Some operate under rules allowing money from a previous year’s budget to be used this year.
The shutdown has created enough confusion around the country that its impact sometimes stretches beyond the actual state of play. The Agriculture Department’s Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, one of the government’s largest food programs, serves low-income mothers and small children and is running using contingency funds and money carried over from last year.
But several WIC administrators across the country report that retailers — usually small bodegas or rural grocers — are refusing to accept food vouchers because they’re worried they’ll turn out to be worthless when they deposit them at the bank.
In California, grocery stores received strong warnings last week that “vendors who do not accept food instruments will be terminated for voluntary cessation of operations.”
Head Start programs in several states shut their doors last week, leaving about 7,000 children without services, according to the National Head Start Association.
When the centers’ annual funding, due Oct. 1, didn’t arrive, one program in central Alabama closed at midnight on Sept. 30, ending preschool for 898 children in six counties and cutting off parents’ access to free day care and social services.
Dora Jones, program director for Cheaha Regional Head Start in Talladega, Ala., and her head custodian spent Friday driving to her 16 centers to make sure doors and windows were locked, appliances unplugged, and air conditioners turned off.
Jones had to furlough more than 200 employees, including Jazmine Myers, 26, who had already been furloughed for two weeks this summer because of budget cuts required by sequestration.
“I basically just stay at home with my son,” a 2-year-old who usually attends one of the shuttered centers, she said. “I don’t have money for gas, so we don’t really go anywhere.” She has applied for food stamps. And last week, she waited on hold for 40 minutes to apply for unemployment before hanging up in frustration.
Those closed Head Start centers should be able to reopen by week’s end thanks to an emergency, $10 million loan by Houston philanthropists Laura and John Arnold.