If it’s not resolved by Saturday, the government shutdown will become the longest in U.S. history.
Since it began Dec. 22, the shutdown has put hundreds of thousands of federal employees across the United States on furlough and limited services offered by their agencies.
In Umatilla County, the effects on services may soon become more visible if the shutdown continues.
Local agencies like CAPECO and Umatilla County Housing Authority utilize USDA loans for affordable housing and rural energy programs, and therefore have been affected by the shutdown in slowed response times and uncertain service. The housing authority gets rental assistance from the USDA on several properties as well.
Umatilla County Housing Authority’s executive director, Ryan Stradley, said so far, the impact has been fairly limited.
The agency has some programs that use Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and USDA resources. HUD is a federal department that helps low-income families with affordable housing. One of their programs is Section 8, or the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which provides vouchers for a low-income family to find their own housing.
If a rental provider agrees to participate in the program, they will receive a portion of the rent from a public housing agency (such as Umatilla County Housing Authority), which receives the funds from HUD. The tenants pay the rest of the rent.
So far, the effects have been minor. Some paperwork processing has been stalled because no one is staffing the USDA office, Stradley said, but they have reserve funds that have gotten them through the first three weeks of the shutdown.
But he said if the shutdown does not end and the USDA can’t give out rental assistance, in February it will affect people renting properties in Boardman, Hermiston and Umatilla. If HUD can’t deposit funds for Section 8 housing, he said, there will be 300 families across four counties without funding.
He said the residents will be the last to feel the impact.
“We’ll do everything we can,” he said, adding that he does not foresee any evictions for that reason. But he said that with those in Section 8 housing, effects may be felt sooner, because the housing authority doesn’t own or manage the properties.
“Depending on how individual owners want to treat it, I imagine some will be understanding,” he said, “and some will want their rent, and be entitled to it.”
Federal agencies including the Umatilla National Forest, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and United States Department of Agriculture have all been closed. Services including the McNary Dam and the National Weather Service were deemed essential, and employees have continued to work.
The Oregon Energy Fund announced on Thursday that it may be able to help furloughed employees get emergency funding for utility bills. They said they don’t provide direct funding, but they distribute funds to partner agencies that may be able to help workers. Federal employees can reach the nonprofit at 971-386-2124 or at OregonEnergyFund.org to see if they are eligible.
Regina Baltrusch, a public information officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the three principal appropriation bills for fiscal year 2019 which support funding for the corps were passed by congress and signed into the law before fiscal year 2019 began, on Oct. 1, 2018.
“These bills together virtually cover all Direct Funded USACE activities and an overwhelming majority of the reimbursable work for the remainder of this fiscal year,” Baltrusch wrote to the EO in a statement.