Naperville beginning to feel the impact of goverment shutdown
Ripples from the shutdown of the federal government are starting to expand into Naperville.
This week Loaves & Fishes Community Services received its first requests for assistance from furloughed workers who’ve become unwitting pawns in a political struggle happening 600 miles away in Washington, D.C.
An estimated 40,000 federal workers who are affected by the shutdown that started Dec. 22 live in Illinois. With paychecks not arriving Friday as scheduled, some of the workers are turning to local agencies for help put food on their tables, sustain a roof over their heads, and keep their utilities running.
Janet Derrick, vice president of the Loaves & Fishes CARES Program, on Thursday said during the week a furloughed worker asked for rental assistance, two furloughed workers registered for food services, and a furloughed worker asked about signing up for food stamps.
The Naperville-based agency already serves about 4,700 unduplicated households in Naperville and DuPage County in a year, 40 percent of which receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the current iteration of food stamps also known as SNAP.
The Department of Agriculture this week reassured the 38 million low-income Americans receiving food stamps that funding for the program would be provided through February. No such guarantee exists for March, should the shutdown continue.
Derrick said if no resolution is found in the next few weeks, agencies like Loaves & Fishes could experience more challenges beyond people seeking financial and nutritional assistance. And the issues only compound the longer the government remains closed, she said.
For instance, the tax preparation services the CARES Program provides through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program could be delayed.Derrick said the agency typically starts preparing taxes at the end of January when people have received their W-2 forms.
“We cannot currently process tax returns because we need to resolve some system issues with the IRS, and our IRS contact for the program has been furloughed,” Derrick said.
If people aren’t getting their returns, Derrick said their not able to use their refunds to get caught up on their bills.
In the 2017 tax season, Derrick said Loaves & Fishes completed 850 returns resulting in more than $1.2 million in federal refunds, $542,000 in earned income tax credit and $142,500 in state refunds.
“January to March historically is a time Loaves & Fishes sees a decrease in financial assistance requests because of tax returns and LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) assistance. We are concerned we will see higher requests for assistance the longer returns are delayed,” she said.
That could mean Loaves & Fishes will have to wait to build back its reserves.
Feeding the furloughed workers and their families should not be a problem, according to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which this week said it will continue to provide fresh, nutritious food to those in need through the network of member agencies that serve a 13-county area.
While the food bank administers a number of federal nutrition programs and relies on some government funding, food bank officials are confident it can serve those impacted by the shutdown in addition to existing clients.
The Northern Illinois Food Bank also is getting a boost from U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, who on Tuesday announced he would donate his congressional pay to the food bank during the shutdown. The Naperville Democrat said he’s donating the money to show solidarity with workers who have to go without paychecks.
“I think its inappropriate for Congress to be drawing its full salary when so many people are suffering and going without their salary,” Foster said.
Foster has heard concerns from people in the 11th Congressional district, including representatives from of the air traffic controllers who work in the Aurora center.
“They’re already seeing delayed training and increased stress on overtime,” he said. “They’re worried about what may happen to travel times due to the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) workers that are not being paid.That’s something I’m keeping my eyes on.”
In addition to workers not getting paid, the shutdown affects the science community.
“There’s a large amount of data-taking equipment out there that does not have a scientist monitoring it to make sure it’s working properly,” Foster said. “This may result in important gaps in the data that allow us to understand everything from the climate to geology to astronomy.”
The real issue is there is not a national security emergency at the southern border, and President Trump is trying to convince people there is, Foster said.
“The humanitarian crisis he refers to is something that has been created by his administration,” he said. “These are people coming here to legally apply for asylum and the humanitarian crisis is due to the fact that the Trump administration has chosen not to provide adequate facilities for these people and their families.”
Foster adds the full effects of the shutdown may not be known for weeks or months.
Newly minted Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, of Naperville, sent news releases this week announcing she voted in favor of reopening the federal treasury, transportation, agriculture departments as well as the Food and Drug Administration and Housing and Urban Development.
“Illinoisans deserve their tax refunds in full and on time. That is why I voted – for the second time since I was sworn in—to re-open the Treasury Department and IRS,” Underwood said in a news release regarding her vote on re-openings the two departments. We must stop playing politics and re-open government.”
“Our air travel safety and aviation community are at risk. Because of the shutdown, the Federal Aviation Administration has furloughed a significant portion of its workforce leaving fewer safety professionals on the job and stressing an already stretched aviation workforce who call the Illinois 14th home,” Underwood said in a separate news release. “I believe in governing responsibly and will not allow the hard-working people of Illinois to be held hostage by this political stunt to shut down critical government agencies. We will continue to work to re-open government, and keep our promise to deliver progress for all Americans.”
Attempts by the Naperville Sun get reaction to the shutdown from Republican leadership in DuPage County and the state went unanswered.
Some groups aren’t feeling the impact yet.
Family Shelter Service, a nonprofit organization that services victims of domestic abuse, posted a message to a Naperville Facebook group Friday that it will be open despite the shutdown. “Our courthouse advocates, 24-hour hot line and counseling are available to anyone who may feel unsafe in a relationship,” the post said. “Call our hot line at 630-469-5650 — we're here and ready to listen.”
Applications to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for new beers and other alcoholic products are on hold during the shutdown.
Jeremy Smith, vice president of sales and marketing for 2 Fools Cider, said the shutdown isn’t directly affecting the cidery’s operation. “As of right now, we don’t have anything in the works or any requirements/requests with the (agency),” Smith said in an email.
As part of the shutdown, small business loans are not being processed. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a letter dated Jan. 8 urged Congress to pass legislation to reopen the government.
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urges Congress and the administration to restore full operation of the federal government,” the letter reads. “The shutdown is harming the American people, the business community and the economy. The Chamber strongly urges Congress and the administration to resolve this impasse and reopen the government.”