Lynn, Ma. — Louis Stola talks about how the government shutdown affect him and his family. (Owen O'Rourke)
Local Government and Politics, News

How is the government shutdown affecting us in Lynn and the surrounding areas?

Nearly a month into the partial federal government shutdown, 21-year-old Louis Stola of the U.S. Coast Guard is worried about paying the bills.

Stola, a Revere resident, works out of the U.S. Coast Guard base in Boston’s North End. He said he received a check on Jan. 1 but is not expecting to get one on Jan. 15. He and his wife Alicia Ledezma began squirreling away money and getting free produce at local food pantries to prepare for the lack of pay, he said.

"We hope and pray they make the right decisions up there," said Stola. "We have no control over it. Congress members are getting $10,000 raises and our families are getting nothing."

An estimated 80,000 federal employees have gone without pay, and the strain on the system is starting to show. Travelers are waiting in longer lines as Transportation Security Administration workers call out sick during their scheduled shifts. National parks across the country are covered with trash and marred by vandalism. And many immigration cases are being postponed, delaying an already lengthy process.

Housing

That pain is felt outside of courts, parks and airports. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), whose funds ran out on Jan. 1, sent a letter to 1,500 landlords whose tenants receive financial assistance, asking them not to evict the affected residents, according to The Cut, a website run by New York Magazine.

Charles J. Gaeta, executive director of Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development, said the longer the shutdown drags on, the greater the risk for housing assistance in Lynn.

"If it's not resolved soon it could impact Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) to landlords, applying for tax credits for a future development at the Armory, and the support we rely on from a very professional and knowledgeable HUD staff," said Gaeta.

Food

Families that rely on federal dollars to buy food aren't yet in danger. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday announced a plan to provide full benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants for the month of February.

The department is reviewing options available to them for funding SNAP's February benefits without an additional appropriation from Congress, according to the press release. Another major USDA program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), has prior year funding which USDA will begin to provide states this week to facilitate February benefits.

Dianna Kuzia Hills, the executive director of My Brother's Table, said the city's soup kitchen could be in jeopardy if the government does not let up.

"We shop at the Greater Boston Food Bank twice a week to get USDA approved food, and it's either free or we pay a tiny, shared maintenance fee," said Hills. "If we can't get the food from there, we have to pay for it through a wholesaler at full price. We are a privately funded organization that raises all our own money. If we have to shop at a regular store, financially, we will run out quickly and that's a huge concern for us."

Most of the people who go to the soup kitchen for food don't realize the federal government is putting up the cash for their SNAP and WIC benefits, so many of them don't realize they are in jeopardy, said Hills. If the shutdown continues, Hills said she encourages community members to donate their time or money to My Brother's Table to ensure people are getting a hot meal.

Home heating assistance

Given the winter months, the shutdown is terrible timing, according to Hills. People are worried about paying their heating bill, she said.

"Our programs received all their money upfront so we are very fortunate we aren't being affected but the uncertainty and inability to plan is impacting us," said Birgitta Damon, CEO of Lynn Economic Opportunity, Inc. (LEO).

The organization has a fuel assistance program that provides subsidies and discounts to help low-income households pay their winter utility bills from November through May.

Clients of LEO in Lynn, Lynnfield, Nahant, Saugus, Swampscott and Wakefield are, at the moment, not in jeopardy of losing assistance for their heat bills, said Damon. Massachusetts gets 90 percent of fuel assistance funding upfront from the federal government, she said.

Legal, real estate and immigration concerns

Lynn attorney and School Committee member Michael Satterwhite said U.S. Bankruptcy Court and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent out warnings that funding issues may cause delays in hearing and claims processing. A bankruptcy hearing for one of Satterwhite's clients was postponed to February, and necessary meetings with immigration officers for other clients have been postponed. He expects the postponements to continue.

"Even some of my home-buying clients have had their closings delayed due to the unavailability of IRS transcripts for the short period of time," said Satterwhite. "It’s an unsettling period of time for Lynn residents that depend on certain federal government entities."

Struggling to get by

Even though the Coast Guard's five-page financial tip sheet to furloughed employees, with suggestions like hosting garage sales and babysitting to generate revenue, didn't sit well with many members, Stola said the Armed Forces branch is doing everything it can to keep its men and women afloat.

The U.S. Coast Guard has a mutual assistance program that gives $550 a month to married members and $350 to single members so they can purchase food. Stola said he still has hope, regardless of the current state of the country.

"A lot of us are just disappointed and hoping for an update soon on what's going to happen," said Stola. "I believe the shutdown won't be for too much longer. Right now, I'm just very glad the Coast Guard takes care of its people the way they do."

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