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Federal shutdown threatens food stamps

by Krystal Paco

Guam - While Congress stands divided, here at home, federally-funded programs that assist no-to-low-income families with meeting their basic needs are hoping for the best, but bracing for the cuts.

Fortunately for Guam - we're where America's day begins - and for the 15,000 Guam households representing over 43,000 residents, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, benefits were loaded just hours before the federal government shutdown.

That's roughly $9.5 million in monthly benefits or $115 million annually the island receives from the 100% federally-funded program.

According to Department of Public Health and Social Services director James Gillan, SNAP, or food stamps, is just one of 60 fully- or partially-federally-funded programs that may be affected by Tuesday's shutdown.

"Some of the messages we've been getting from the federal government have been kind of mixed. We weren't sure about what's going to happen. Some of it the picture still isn't clear. But the ones we're really concerned about are the food stamp program; Women, Infants & Children's program; and Medicaid and Medicare," said Gillan.

While October food stamp benefits have been secured, looking ahead, Gillan is hoping to see action at the nation's capitol sooner rather than later. "Overall, unless there's some unpleasant surprises, we don't see anything that puts us in a difficult position until November," he said.

SNAP administration, on the other hand, will only have funding for the next six months.

Similarly, the WIC program food coupons will only have funds to operate for the next three weeks, with funds for administration only to cover operations for the next three to four weeks.

In a program specific draft to be sent to the governor, it's easy to see some programs are in the clear, as their grants were already awarded...but others aren't so lucky.

He said, "Where we may have some difficulty is with our community health centers because some of the funding - there's about $1.4 million is available for staffing for about 25 people. We have some program income, which is as a community health center, we're supposed to charge for services so whatever we collect is called program income we can use that to get us probably through another month also and we're hoping by that time, that congress would've acted like adults."

If there's no funding for staff ranging from physicians to registered nurses and support staff, the island's community health centers will have to reduce the number of patients receiving primary health care and preventive services as well as decrease medical visits. This could leave an estimated 3,000 patients without healthcare and possibly increase the traffic at the Guam Memorial Hospital emergency room.

Meanwhile, Gillan reports Medicaid, which is matched 55% by the federal government, has enough funds to last until the end of the year.

Other supportive services, such as the adult day care, case management, in home services, legal assistance services, and transportation services may be funded by their local match until June of next year in addition to senior center operations.

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