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NH officials prepare for local impacts of federal shutdown

A food pantry in Manchester, NH
Gaby Lozada
Food assistance programs could be put at a risk during a lasting shutdown.

This story was updated on Sept. 30, 8:30 a.m.

As the prospect of a federal government this weekend seems all but certain, state leaders say they are preparing for the impacts for New Hampshire. While the full implications for the state aren’t entirely clear, officials say any shutdown lasting longer than a few weeks could have serious effects.

Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday that state agencies had conducted "impact reviews assessments" in anticipation of a shutdown.

"[They] have assured us that most state services and programs will not be affected in the short-term (30 days)," Sununu said in a written statement.

But the impacts of a shutdown will be immediate for some residents.

For instance, New Hampshire has about 4,700 federal workers, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Those deemed “essential” would work through any shutdown without pay, all others would be furloughed if no deal is reached by Sunday.

By law, federal workers would ultimately get back pay. If the shutdown extends more than a few weeks, it could come with serious implications for those who rely on the federal government for food assistance, not to mention the numerous state businesses and nonprofits dependent on the flow of federal dollars.

“A shutdown would be a huge financial strain on Granite State organizations,” U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen said in a press release issued after she traveled the state Monday to raise the alarms about the shutdown. She visited a marine contractor whose business depends on federally funded navy contracts and a Manchester social service agency.

New Hampshire’s state government also relies heavily on federal money. State officials say right now they are mostly watching, monitoring state resources, and hoping any shutdown that comes is resolved quickly.

“We are not looking at any layoffs or service curtailment unless the government shuts down for many weeks," said the state's Commissioner of Administrative Services Charlie Arlinghaus.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — also known as WIC — provides food and financial support for low-income mothers and children up to age 5. Benefits could be put at a risk during a lasting shutdown. About 13,500 people are covered by that program in New Hampshire, according to the White House.

The state has also warned that some recipients of WIC will see temporary reductions in a fresh fruit and vegetables benefit.

Infant formula and other food included in WIC packages will not be affected, according to the governor's office. If shutdown lingers longer than one month, additional social services will see impacts, state officials said.

“Families are encouraged to contact their WIC office with questions about their benefits,” said state Health Commissioner Lori Weaver. “We are actively working with state and federal partners to ensure the Department is able to continue meeting its mission during an extended federal government shutdown.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps, could also be affected if a deal isn’t reached sometime next month. Last year about 69,000 people in the state received such benefits, accordingto the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. But for the next month, those are secure, shutdown or not.

Any shutdown could also disrupt the end of camping season in the White Mountain National Forests, when many tourists head to the region for foliage viewing.

Sununu's office said Friday that a federal shutdown would have "no immediate impact" on the state's LIHEAP program, which provides financial assistance for low-income families to pay for home heating costs.

The state also says all DMV offices will remain open, and New Hampshire state parks will remain open through a shutdown.

The last federal shutdown lasted five weeks from late 2018 into 2019; the Congressional Budget Office estimates it cut the nation’s GDP by $11 billion.

During that shutdown, which did not affect all federal agencies, the New Hampshire Food Bank ended up supplying meals to displaced federal workers. The food bank isn’t planning that this year, but staff say a shutdown will make their funding, which relies on an array of federal programs, a scramble.

“We are hoping for minimal disruption, and everything gets back on budget in order by November 1,” said New Hampshire Food Bank Executive Director Eileen Liponis. “We can muscle through a month.”

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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