Politics & Government

It’s not just federal workers. Shutdown impacts SC school lunches, disaster recovery

Gary Votour, Johnny Allen and Tony Howell protest federal workers being furloughed due to government shutdown outside Lindsay Graham’s Columbia office 1/10/19.
Gary Votour, Johnny Allen and Tony Howell protest federal workers being furloughed due to government shutdown outside Lindsay Graham’s Columbia office 1/10/19. tdominick@thestate.com

As the federal government shutdown enters its fourth week, more than federal employees are feeling the impact.

In South Carolina, dozens of state agencies receive millions of federal dollars for local programs. Some of those agencies now are worrying the ongoing budget stalemate in Washington will affect programs close to home.

For example, there are no federal workers available — they have been furloughed — to respond to grant requests from the S.C. Commerce Department. That includes disaster-recovery funding the state will use to rebuild from last fall’s one-two punch from hurricanes Florence and Michael — or even some funding related to the 2015 Midlands flood.

However, Commerce spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said the delay won’t affect the department’s planning for at least three to six months.

S.C. schools also could be affected if the shutdown lingers on.

The free and reduced lunch program, which feeds lower-income students throughout the school year, could run out of money in a month.

Like other federal food programs — including SNAP, or food stamps — the lunch program gets its money from the U.S. Agriculture Department, which is shut down. Funding for school meals is available until the end of February.

But officials are unsure what to do if the shutdown continues into March.

In South Carolina, almost 500,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and the state was reimbursed $291 million for those meals last school year.

“After that, it would be put on the state or the school districts,” said S.C. Education Department spokesman Ryan Brown.

Education officials have discussed the possibility of dipping into reserve funds to keep feeding students if the shutdown lasts more than two months.

Update: School officials learned Wednesday funding would be available through the end of the school year.

Some services that have been suspended are resuming — at least temporarily — despite the shutdown.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that service centers in 10 S.C. counties will reopen Thursday, Friday and Tuesday to provide assistance with farm loans.

The Coast Guard also is continuing to operate despite service members missing a pay day on Tuesday.

Harvest Hope Food Bank will distribute food Thursday to other federal workers who have had to remain on the job — Transportation Security Administration agents and air traffic controllers who are working without pay at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

Other state agencies say they aren’t feeling the effects of the shutdown yet.

The S.C. Attorney General’s office reports the shutdown has not hindered any joint federal-state investigation, and the Department of Juvenile Justice says much of its federal money comes in the form of future reimbursements for current spending.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, one of the state’s largest agencies, says the majority of its 2019 federal budget already has been appropriated, adding the department “may have to make some adjustments in the future” if the shutdown continues.

Federal money that goes to SC agencies

Some of the largest recipients of federal money in S.C. government

S.C. Department of Transportation: $1.1 billion

S.C. Department of Education: $879 million

S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control: $286 million

S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce: $150 million

S.C. Department of Vocational Rehabilitation: $119.9 million

S.C. Department of Commerce: $119.4 million

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.