As the U.S. government shutdown continues, nonprofit aid groups such as Catholic Charities are feeling an added strain on their work at the national and local levels.
“While some may wonder what effect political disagreements in Washington, D.C., could have on people in need across our country,” explained Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, “the truth of the matter is that uncertainty, furloughs, and limited resources at federal agencies directly hinder the vital work Catholic Charities agencies do every day.”
“The impact of this shutdown is being felt in communities across the nation,” he explained in an Oct. 4 blog post.
The government shutdown began on Oct. 1, when federal lawmakers failed to agree on spending authorization bills for the new fiscal year.
This stalemate prompted a shutdown of government services deemed “non-essential,” including education programs for at-risk preschoolers, scientific research, and grants to charitable organizations.
As a result, federal workers working for “non-essential services” have been furloughed, placed on unpaid leave, until legislators can agree on spending bills.
The shutdown’s impact on aid programs – such as food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program – has been mixed. Some programs are protected from the effects of the shutdown, while others are subject to a freeze in federal administration funding.
Across the country, Fr. Snyder said, furloughed workers are relying upon Catholic Charities to help feed their families while they are not receiving pay due to the shutdown. At the same time, funding for programs such as Meals on Wheels, initiatives to help at-risk youth, and other activities that rely upon federal grants are on hold.
“Our agencies are being forced to choose between shutting the doors to much-needed programs or opening them at a severe loss while waiting for government reimbursement that may or may not ever come,” Fr. Snyder explained.
“The longer this stalemate continues, the wider the ripples of Congress’ failure to compromise will spread.”
The shutdown is also affecting Catholic Charities affiliates throughout the country. Many of these affiliates have been forced to go without government funding during the shutdown, while at the same time seeing increased need in their community due to furloughed workers.
Michael Burrus, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Wichita, told the Wichita Star when the shutdown started that the organization would try its best to continue running its programs.
However, he said, “ if the government is out of business, Catholic Charities cannot expect to continue to receive funds to support these programs or to pay staff to run them.”
Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., is also facing challenges to its programs, a situation which is compounded by the city’s close relationship to the federal government.
“Due to the unique ways that D.C. is funded, we’re running into a lot of problems or funding delays that no other states or Catholic Charities are encountering,” communications director Erik Salmi told CNA.
Because the budget of the nation’s capital requires congressional authorization, many of its programs and services are placed on hold during the shutdown.
Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. is “in the midst of assessing our situation,” Salmi continued, adding that the organization has the capacity “for a short while to continue providing services.”