LIMA — After 26 days of the partial federal government shutdown, its effects are starting to reverberate through Lima and the region.
While national parks and other federal agencies have been operating on skeleton crews, the more visible federal services in the area, such as the U.S. Postal Service, have continued unabated throughout the last month, making the federal shutdown seem more of a Washington, D.C. problem than something the average resident has to deal with.
That may be changing as the lack of federal funding has started to disrupt business as usual for local agencies. With that said, such difficulties could be reversed as soon as federal funding is reinstated, but whether that will be the case is still up in the air.
The Allen County Regional Transit Authority announced today due to lack of federal operating dollars, the agency may not be able to pay its employees right away if a local solution can’t be found.
“Our commitment to the Allen County community is to provide service as long as we can during this funding crisis. our employees will be working without pay to ensure there is no disruption in service,” ACRTA Director Shelia Haney said in a press release.
While the ACRTA does pull in funds from ridership fees and myriad other services, the majority of its funding comes from a federal operations grant. Local funding, an additional $100,000, is primarily provided through the City of Lima.
Since the agency has not been able to draw federal grant dollars since Dec. 21, ACRTA Spokesperson Elliot Rankin said the transit authority will be holding employee paychecks to stretch what they have to cover other operating costs like fuel for buses. If the shutdown continues even longer and a local solution isn’t identified, the ACRTA could end up cutting services altogether, Rankin said.
Mayor David Berger said the City of Lima will be making moves to shift its annual allocation to ACRTA. Normally, the city pays out its annual $100,000 allocation by $25,000 per quarter, but Berger said he has drafted legislation to ask Lima City Council to pay out the annual appropriation in one lump sum to hedge against the lack of federal funding.
Haney will also be meeting with Allen County Commissioners on Thursday afternoon to discuss a potential funding solution.
Lack of federal funding has laid at the root of the ACRTA’s budget issues over the two years. ACRTA waved a warning flag about federal funding when it asked voters in November 2017 for an increase in Allen County’s sales, which residents voted down. Since that time, the agency has cut nights and weekend services, seen its ridership numbers decrease by more than one-third over a one-year period and saw its employee turnover rate jump to 68 percent. The ACRTA has plans to try for another sales tax levy increase of 0.1 percent this May in an effort to right the ship. The agency has also beefed up its marketing efforts and created a business plan to better identify solutions.
Other local programs affected by the shutdown also include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, administered by the Allen County Department of Jobs and Family Services, and farm loan activities operated by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s farm service agencies.
To help with farm loan activities, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced limited operations for roughly half of all farm service agencies in the country for Thursday, Friday and Tuesday during normal business hours — effectively recalling 2,500 FSA employees to resume operations.
“Until Congress sends President Trump an appropirations bill in the form that he will sign, we are doing our best to minimize the impact of the partial federal funding lapse on American’s agricultural producers,” Perdue said in a press release.
Services available at certain FSA locations include processing payments made prior to the end of 2018, continuing expiring finance statements and opening mail to identify priorities. Phone lines for certain offices will also be open.
A complete list of open FSA locations can be found online at limaohio.com.
As for SNAP recipients, not much has changed in terms of the amount allocated to food stamp cards, but ACDJFS Director Joe Patton said payments for February will be issued to individual accounts today, earlier than normal due to the shutdown, and that program customers should budget accordingly.
“We don’t want to see families run short on food stamps,” Patton said. “Just put the extra amount off to the side and spend the normal January allotment because you’ll have to do the same for February.”
As for March’s issuance, it remains to be seen what will be done if the shutdown continues.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.