by Linda Couch, LeadingAge: As the partial federal government shutdown continues into its third week, LeadingAge’s affordable housing members are feeling the impact.
With HUD and its funding shutdown effective December 21, 2018, HUD was not able to renew 650 contracts for its multifamily housing partners in December. Of these 650 communities with expired contracts, MSNBC spent much of the day on January 14, 2019, broadcasting live from San Jose Manor, a LeadingAge member in Jacksonville, FL with about 100 residents.
Alma Ballard, with Family Housing Management, which manages San Jose Manor I and II for the Section 202 community’s owner, the Diocese of St. Augustine, told MSNBC, “I don’t know if we’ll have the money to continue. I am hoping and praying it does not impact residents.” Ms. Ballard has already dipped into her reserves, HUD’s only solution for the 224 Section 202 communities with Project Rental Assistance Contracts that were not renewed in December and believes she might be able to cover two more months of operating costs from her reserves.
In one live segment with a reporter, a San Jose resident said, “It’s scary. I have no family. It’s just me.” Laughing a little bit, she added, “I think the back seat of my car is pretty small.”
“We’ve worked all our lives. These are supposed to be our golden years. They need to fund HUD so they can keep the housing open. We need help from Washington,” another resident said during a live segment.
LeadingAge could not agree more and on January 14 an action alert was shared with members to urge Congress to pass a fiscal year 2019 HUD funding bill and end the shutdown. Congress needs to hear from communities about how an ongoing shutdown could impact them.
HUD’s plan for the 650 contracts it did not renew in December because of the shutdown is as follows: use carryover funds from fiscal year 2018 for the 256 Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities contracts that expired; use identified funds from other accounts to attach to the 170 Project-Based Rental Assistance contracts that expired; and have the 224 Section 202 communities with Project Rental Assistance Contracts rely on their reserves (HUD says 92% of these have “several months” worth of reserves on hand; HUD does not have a stated plan for the other 8%). The shutdown is also impacting Service Coordinators. Most, if not all, Service Coordinator grants funded on a calendar year basis were not successfully extended for CY19 prior to the shutdown. HUD will not be processing Service Coordinator extensions during the shutdown, nor can they provide technical assistance to Service Coordinator grant recipients.
Shutdown's impact on other aging services
Nutrition programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also are affected by the partial government shutdown. USDA announced on January 8 that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, should be able to operate through February, 2019. In fact, February benefits will be paid early, on January 20, due to provisions of the continuing resolution that expired on December 22, 2018. USDA has not indicated what will happen to SNAP benefits after February if the shutdown continues. Twenty-one percent of SNAP beneficiaries are older people or people with disabilities.
The Senior Food Box Program, also under USDA's jurisdiction, provides food to people aged 60 and over who have low incomes. The program is administered by community organizations across the country; because of the shutdown, these groups do not have funds to access and distribute commodities to older people who participate in the program. Food banks and other charities are having to divert scarce resources to keeping the Food Box Program running for the hundreds of thousands of seniors who qualify for this help.
The Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and People with Disabilities program, administered by the Federal Transit Administration, also is affected by the shutdown. This program, which LeadingAge has strongly supported, funds transportation services for older people who cannot drive to medical appointments, buy food, etc.
Medicare and Medicaid generally are not affected by the shutdown, since they are not subject to annual appropriations. However, in failing to finalize a spending bill for fiscal 2019, Congress and the President have left spending caps enacted under the Budget Control Act of 2010 in effect. Over the past several years, Congress has waived these spending caps, which call for total federal spending to be ratcheted down to levels that neither a majority of legislators nor the White House can actually support. Without a spending bill containing a waiver, the Budget Control Act caps could trigger spending sequestration across all government programs.
Medicare reimbursement, already subject to 2% sequestration, would get an additional, estimated cut of 0.1% if a spending bill with a budget caps waiver does not become law by the end of this month.
All of these ongoing and potential lapses in funding for essential services on which older people rely demonstrate the absolute necessity for Congress and the President to enact legislation to fund the shuttered federal agencies and restart these programs.