Louisiana leaders are closely monitoring state services that have not yet but ultimately could be affected as the federal government shutdown continues with no end in sight.
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To date, no major disruptions have happened to crucial state programs, according to Division of Administration spokesman Jacques Berry. But officials are keeping tabs on what might ultimately happen if President Donald Trump and congressional leaders remain in a standoff over Trump’s desire for funding for a wall along the nation’s southern border to curb illegal immigration.
“Obviously, we have no way of knowing what they will do,” Berry said. “It’s not something that’s affecting us yet.”
More than 40 percent of the state’s nearly $30 billion budget comes from the federal government. But despite being a state that relies heavily on federal funding, leaders say the state has mostly been insulated from the direct effects of the shutdown.
Much of the state's federal funding is tied to the Medicaid health care program for the poor, which is protected during the partial shutdown. The Children’s Health Insurance Program is also safe from the shutdown’s effects, as is the food stamps program.
Officials have warned, though, that the longer the shutdown stretches, the more potential it has to affect other federally funded services on the state level.
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On Friday, Trump said he’s prepared to keep the government shut down for months or years, if it takes that long to get funding for the border wall.
"I don't think it will, but I'm prepared," the president said during a news conference Friday.
If federal funding dries up for programs, states could be forced to eliminate services or cover the costs on their own dime. Louisiana has in recent years faced multiple budget crises that forced cuts and prompted an increase in the sales tax — from 4 percent to 4.45 percent, after a temporary period at 5 percent.
The Division of Administration, which oversees state spending, will begin meetings in the coming days with all of the state’s agency heads in preparation for the new budget cycle that begins July 1. By law, Gov. John Bel Edwards is required to present an executive budget proposal to legislators this month to begin budget negotiations.
Berry said because those meetings were already set to take place, the Division of Administration has also told agency heads to evaluate how they may be affected by a continued shutdown and present the information to the division to track.
“This has happened many times, and we’ve never had to cover federal money in any of the previous shutdowns,” he said. “They have to have a plan.”
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Catherine Heitman, spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services that administers the food stamp program for the state as well as other safety nets for children and the poor, said the the federal government has assured the agency that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, known as food stamps, will continue through January, even if the shutdown isn’t resolved.
“DCFS has not been made aware of any interruptions to any of our federally funded programs or services in the short term due to the federal government shutdown,” she said, adding that the agency is awaiting further updates.
Edwards, a Democrat who is seeking re-election this year, has urged Congress and the president to reach a solution that will reopen the government.
"There are very real ramifications to this government shutdown, but there appears to be a lack of urgency in Washington to forge a compromise," he said in a statement on the impasse. "This is unacceptable, and it’s time for those in Congress and the administration to come together to find a bipartisan solution to end this shutdown."
Due to the government shutdown, a thinly-staffed Internal Revenue Service can’t currently issue any refunds.
Councilwoman At-Large Helena Moreno is warning that the partial shutdown of the federal government, which began at midnight, is putting fundin…
Some states have voiced concern over the impact to bonding capacity for major construction projects, but state Treasurer John Schroder said that's not a concern here. "We have no other bonds secured by federal funds, so there is no impact right now," he said.
He also said the shutdown won't directly affect the state treasury's cash flow.
Meanwhile, federal programs not linked to the state remain in limbo. Louisiana is home to about 6,000 federal employees whose jobs are not funded during the shutdown.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission has had a few unemployment claims that have been identified as related to the federal government shutdown, as many federal employees have been furloughed until the government reopens, but it so far hasn’t created issues for the state department.
“There has been virtually no impact to our normal claims load,” spokesman Michael Key said.
The holidays have come and gone, landing us here in January, a month typically marked by somber self-appraisal and pledges to do better.
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