Government shutdown may impact Memphis Housing Authority, SNAP

(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Jan. 7, 2019 at 4:28 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - As the government shutdown drags on, the consequences of the forced closure of some federal agencies are becoming more obvious.

Memphis Housing Authority is watching Washington closely.

MHA relies on HUD for funding and grants, and with 95 percent of HUD workers on furlough, everything has ground to a halt.

“We are having to have difficult conversations about what this means to us,” said MHA CEO Marcia Lewis.

Lewis said so far, all 2019 has brought is uncertainty.

HUD has provided operational staffing funds for the month of January.

There are also funds to pay for public housing and the Section 8 voucher program in the short term.

“We have to submit information about our expenditures, our operations, our occupancy, there’s no on there to look at it – to approve it to sign off on it, to release payment for those contractors,” Lewis said.

The contractors she’s referring to are those involved in the demolition of Foote Homes and its rebirth as South City thanks to a $30 million HUD grant.

“You have a major development project ongoing when we get pay requests, Lewis said. “After a certain point we will not be able to pay and then get reimbursed.”

Lewis said some case managers at her agency are also paid by HUD grants.

It's possible if the shutdown isn't resolved soon, the Memphis Housing Authority could dip into reserve funds.

“It’s not good business,” Lewis said. “It’s not good business.”

Monday, the White House said tax refunds will go out if the shutdown continues on into the filing season.

Now, there are additional questions on how long food stamp benefits could continue.

“I’ve been on the other side,” Lewis said. “I came from HUD.”

Lewis worked at HUD for more than a decade, including the two-week government shutdown in 2013 when she was furloughed.

“This is not a good position to be in,” Lewis said. “I really feel for some of my former colleagues who are in the position trying to make ends meet.”

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service are at work, along with TSA screeners and air traffic controllers.

Hundreds of air traffic controllers keep Memphis skies safe, not only at the airport tower but also at the center nearby on Democrat Road which helps directs planes through seven states.

By the end of this week, many impacted federal workers will miss their first paychecks.

“The longer this drags on, the more people are going to be affected directly,” said WMC Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson.

The Department of Agriculture said if the shutdown continues into February, there will be a shortfall in SNAP or food stamp funding.

Leaders at the Mid-South Food bank said Monday that any loss of benefits would put increased pressure on them for help.

“We are having to have difficult conversations about what this means to us,” Lewis said.

At MHA, Lewis said a long shutdown could cause them to dip into reserves and not have HUD grant funding on hand to pay contractors.

“That can impact those workers, those families, that project,” Lewis said.

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