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October 17, 2013
In The News

By Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina's government got back up to speed Thursday with the federal shutdown now ended and federal funds for welfare, health and child care programs flowing back to the states.

The state Department of Health and Human Services, the agency most affected by the 16-day partial closing, said that 2,200 workers who had been furloughed or faced reduced hours because their pay was all or partially funded by Washington were being told to return to work full time. Less than 10 percent of them weren't able to work at all, the agency said.

Assistant DHHS Secretary Sherry Bradsher said she was at work at 6 a.m., eager to get federal money flowing again into state programs for disadvantaged people.

"We were able to restore our vocational rehab services, our childcare subsidies services and Work First cash assistance right about 10:30 this morning, so all three of those have been resolved," Bradsher said.
The state suspended Work First welfare applications on Monday and told counties they'd have to make do with fewer childcare subsidy dollars because money wasn't authorized by Congress after Sept. 30.

Durham County was among more than 30 counties statewide to notify providers that thousands of families wouldn't have financial assistance for day care because of the shutdown.

North Carolina appeared to be the only state that took such actions, rather than extending those services with state dollars and expecting reimbursement from the federal government. DHHS said it wasn't persuaded enough that North Carolina could count on that payback. The legislation that passed Wednesday night to end the shutdown directed reimbursement to the states for federal programs that continued during the shutdown.

"We were taking applications very early in the month. We continued to take applications, and we'll process all those that were in that few-day window," Bradsher said. "We should be in good shape."

Still, Democratic 4th District Congressman David Price said he wants to know why North Carolina chose to suspend needed social programs instead of taking the government's word that it would be reimbursed.

"There's no reason to doubt that. It's like they're looking for an excuse," Price said. "I just didn't get it. I still don't."

The North Carolina National Guard announced furloughs of 950 guard civilians and uniformed members soon after the Oct. 1 shutdown began. A National Guard spokesman didn't immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday afternoon, but Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk wrote on Facebook: "Today, we celebrate the return of all members of our ... team."

The shutdown otherwise affected small portions of agencies sprinkled throughout state government. The state Commerce Department said Thursday it postponed next week's expected release of unemployment rate data for September.

The shutdown forced a suspension in work collecting and calculating unemployment figures between the state's Labor Economic and Analysis Division and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, state Commerce Department spokesman Josh Ellis said in an email. A new date for releasing the figures hasn't been determined, Ellis said.

State workers idled during the shutdown because they're paid with federal funds will be paid for the 16 days they missed, but Bradsher said it's not clear yet how the state will work out their back pay.

The U.S. House and Senate approved an agreement to extend federal government funding into mid-January and give government authority to borrow what it needs until early February. Seven of North Carolina's 13 House members and U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan voted for the resolution, which was signed by President Barack Obama.

The country could find itself facing another shutdown in January, when the budget extension expires. Price said he hopes it won't come to that, but if it does, he wants to know if North Carolina will handle it differently.

"Forty-nine out of 50 states found a way to deal with this without hitting their least-advantaged citizens, and I just couldn't imagine why North Carolina couldn't do the same," he said.