Low-income residents worry about possible shutdownby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Moorhead, Minn. — It's still not clear what all the effects would be from a state government shutdown. But the looming budget crisis has many low-income residents worried about paying next month's bills.
Sylvia Hernandez Cruz holds her 5-year-old daughter on her lap and practices letters, as she sits on a couch in the small rambler she rents on the edge of Moorhead.
Cruz says she's trying to plan for a possible state government shutdown. She's trying to stock up on basic grocery items, and making sure her son's asthma prescription is filled before the end of the month. She's not sure if she will be able to afford those things next month.
"I'm pretty much making it month to month. That's the situation I'm in," said Cruz.
Cruz is among the thousands of Minnesotans who receive food and medical assistance. She's most worried about medical costs. She doesn't know where she would come up with the $200 a month to pay for her son's asthma medication.
Cruz says she's e-mailed her local legislator, Republican Rep. Morrie Lanning. But she feels helpless following the budget standoff in the news.
"I don't think they look at the big picture," said Cruz. "I think they're kind of being greedy a little bit, trying to prove who's right or who's wrong or who's got more power. I think that's kind of sad."
Cruz has five children ranging in age from 3-18. She and her husband are separated, and he pays child support. Her 18-year-old daughter has a part-time summer job to help pay the bills.
But Cruz says if any of her sources of income go away, the fragile household budget will crumble.
"You're going to have to decide if you want a roof over your head or groceries for your family," said Cruz. "That's just really sad because I think our legislators have the income, have the money, to where they're not going to know the ripple effect."
It's possible Cruz won't feel the effects of a government shutdown if the aid she gets is ruled an essential service. That won't be decided until a judge rules on the issue June 23.
Some nonprofit social service agencies already know they will lose funding if state government shuts down — agencies like the Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership in Moorhead. The agency has 112 employees and an annual budget of $6.3 million.
Last year it provided services for more than 14,000 people in Clay and Wilkin counties along Minnesota's western border. There are nearly 30 similar agencies around the state.
The organization runs a variety of programs, from Head Start for pre-school kids, to emergency housing for homeless families.
Joe Pederson, the organization's executive director, says he's been told all state funding for programs will stop July 1 if there's a state shutdown.
Federal funding will be cut off, too, because it's processed by a state agency. Peterson is already laying off staff and warning clients.
"We're in the people business, and we're in this because we believe it's the right thing to do," he said. "And it is really, really difficult for us to have to tell people, I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do."
Pederson expects to keep a small staff working. The organization will still get funding for a handful of programs it runs for the state of North Dakota.
But Pederson says a couple dozen Minnesota families in transitional housing would lose their rent subsidy. And if a shutdown lasts more than a month, they might be evicted.
"Many of our services are the difference between having a roof over your head or food to eat. That's how basic the services we provide are," he said. "It is shameful that this state can't take care of the least among us."
Of course, this might all be moot if Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislators reach a budget deal in the next two weeks.
But Joe Pederson says based on his conversations with state lawmakers, he has no doubt the state is headed for a shutdown on July 1.
- Morning Edition, 06/20/2011, 6:55 a.m.