North Carolina is the first state to cut off welfare benefits to poor residents in wake of the federal government shutdown, bringing to a halt the processing of November applications until a deal is reached to end the federal standoff.
More than 20,000 people, most of them children, receive a monthly stipend from the state to assist them in buying food and other basic supplies through North Carolina’s welfare program, called Work First, which is fully funded by the federal government, according to Reuters. Under the program, recipients must reapply each month in order to receive aid.
Other North Carolina programs funded through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant will also lose funding, including childcare subsidies that cover more than 70,000 children. In some parts of the state, these subsidies have already ceased being distributed.
The federal agency that oversees TANF, the Office of the Administration for Children and Families, urged states to continue funding the program, saying in a letter that the states would be reimbursed unless Congress specifies otherwise.
Critics of North Carolina’s decision to cut welfare say the state has $650 million for emergency use in a “rainy day fund” while also noting that it’s politics, not finances, that drives North Carolina’s position on federal programs.
“I would say this is an emergency,” Alexandra Sirota, director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, which advocates for low-income citizens, told Reuters. “They’re cutting off a lifeline for thousands of North Carolina families who have experienced significant hardships.”
The state’s Department of Health and Human Services told its local offices to continue accepting applications for November benefits but not to process them until the federal government shutdown ends. However, anyone who applied for October before this week will still receive welfare assistance.
The state of Arizona said earlier in October that it would also suspend TANF benefits, but reversed that decision.