BANGOR, Maine — Nine Bangor municipal employees whose jobs are funded by the federal government might find themselves temporarily out of work after Oct. 21, according to city officials.
The government shutdown has defunded several programs that help many Americans afford the essentials, ranging from food to housing. Included in those cuts is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC.
That program currently helps about 9 million mothers and children under 5 across the nation who are at or below the federal poverty line. In Maine, about 26,000 people benefit from the WIC program each year, receiving nearly $13 million in annual food aid, according to the state.
Enough funding is available to cover the WIC program for 15 business days after the Oct. 1 shutdown. Patricia Hamilton, public health director for Bangor Health and Community Services, hopes that the government can come to a resolution or the state can find some way of continuing funding before that deadline. The government has classified WIC as a “nonessential” program, placing it among National Parks and some National Guard employees, meaning its funding is cut off during the shutdown.
“The goal would be to not furlough anybody,” Hamilton said Wednesday. “That being said, we don’t know what would happen after the 21st [when the 15-days of funding expires].”
If the shutdown continues past Oct. 21, Bangor may have to furlough nine nutritionists, caseworkers and other employees who work closely with new and expecting mothers to ensure their children’s dietary needs are met with supplemental food products that can be purchased with WIC money.
“This does affect the most vulnerable people, in my mind,” Hamilton said.
Bangor’s City Manager Cathy Conlow said Tuesday that the longer the shutdown continues, the more likely it is to affect other programs, potentially leading to more furloughs. She said the city will continue to work closely with state and federal officials to keep on top of changes that might be coming.
Also affected could be the Shelter Plus Care program, which the federal government funds about $80,000 per month in Bangor to help the city find housing for the homeless. About 130 Bangor residents currently participate in that program, according to Hamilton.
She said the city is hoping to gain further guidance from federal officials about the future of funding for that program, but most of the government employees who could help aren’t working because of the shutdown.
If the shutdown continues for longer than officials hope, some WIC and Shelter Care participants might be able to apply for housing or food assistance through General Assistance, but it’s likely that some will be left out because the programs have different eligibility standards.
One thing the city won’t be able to do is ignore the shutdown and continue funding WIC in hopes that the feds will reimburse them later, Conlow said. Under a federal law known as Anti-Deficiency Act, it is a felony for a government agency to spend money without an appropriation from Congress.
Bangor International Airport should remain relatively unfazed in the shutdown, as air traffic controllers, TSA personnel and Customs and Border Protection staff, are part of what the government considers “essential programs,” and thus will not be affected or furloughed in the shutdown, according to Bangor International Airport Director Tony Caruso.
“We are continuing to closely monitor this situation as it develops,” Caruso said Wednesday in an email.