State suspends Work First program

Oct. 16, 2013 @ 04:13 AM

Nearly 210 Rutherford County families are at risk of not receiving monthly short-term assistance payments.

This week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services suspended the federally funded Work First program due to the federal government shutdown.

The 210 families that receive the monthly funds won’t receive funding in November if the shutdown doesn’t end by Friday.

The program provides assistance to families or children to help them stay off welfare by supplying limited cash benefits, child care, food stamps and Medicaid for up to three months, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

John Carroll, Rutherford County Department of Social Services (DSS) director, said two additional funds have been impacted by the shutdown. The county has closed its emergency assistance and retention funds.

The emergency assistance fund provides cash benefits used for rent, deposits or utilities. Retention funds are used to help people pay for things that might hinder them from keeping their jobs, such as car repairs.

Carroll said most recipients of the funding have already received their October payment.

“Some people have to meet their work requirements before they get paid,” Carroll said. “If they haven’t met their work requirements for September, they may not have received their checks for October.”

However, he said the DSS office has not heard of any specific cases where checks were not received.

According to the N&O, the state has instructed county offices that “no new approved applications for Work First should be processed because of the unavailability of federal funds.” The N&O reported that North Carolina is the only state suspending its program.

The freeze includes applications pending as of Monday, as well as re-certifications for November, the N&O reported.

While the Work First funding has been suspended, Carroll said the county has enough maintenance of effort funds from the county to continue administrative services and Child Protective Services.

“We are hopeful those funds will carry until November,” Carroll said.

Last week, the state elected to also suspend Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits. However, after two days, the program was funded through October with state dollars.

“Obviously it is going to have an impact if people rely on those funds to pay rent or their utilities,” Carroll said. “I feel like there are a lot of people that need more money than what their food stamps pay for food.

“This is going to hurt but I hope it doesn’t get to that point. We just don’t know what effect the shutdown will have on food stamps until November … they are safe for now.”