Budget agreement rescues Durham County social services programs

CorrespondentOctober 17, 2013 

Durham County Social Services Director Michael Becketts

DURHAM COUNTY

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    In other business

    • The board revised its Living Wage Policy to conform with a measure passed by the legislature that prohibits the use of wage requirements on any competitively bid contract. The policy had required all contractors to pay their employees at least a living wage, defined as an hourly rate not less than 7.5 percent above federal poverty guidelines.

    • The board recognized Public Health Nurse Shirley Stock for receiving the 2013 Service Award at the annual N.C. Refugee Health Conference for her “exemplary work with North Carolina refugees.”

    • The board honored Catherine Spearman Ferrell who celebrated her 101st birthday Oct. 10, for her years of community service and civic leadership in Durham. She said she was grateful to serve others.

    • The board honored the Durham County Extension and Community Association, the volunteer arm of Family and Consumer Sciences of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service for 100 years of service.

The federal government shutdown ended just in time to avoid suspension of some of the county’s social services programs.

Department of Social Services Director Michael Becketts had warned that child-care subsidies would have to be cut off as of 5 p.m. Thursday, but a budget agreement reached in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night ended that threat.

“We are business as usual,” Becketts said Thursday. “All services are back to pre-shutdown levels.”

The partial government shutdown had also threatened Meals on Wheels and adult day care services, but the Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution making $235,000 available to keep those running through November, if it had been necessary.

The county was allotted $13 million from the federal government for child care for the fiscal year that began July 1, Becketts said, but the shutdown was holding up $8 million of it.

The impasse could have led to the shuttering of some child-care centers that depend most heavily on federal subsidies.

But that turned out to be just a close call as things got back to normal on Thursday.

“The money is flowing,” County Manager Mike Ruffin said. “It sounds as if things have normalized. We’re back to where we were 16 days ago,” he said, referring to the length of the shutdown in Washington.

Ruffin, though, acknowledged that the county narrowly avoided a crisis.

“If things had gone on, we’d have been in quite bad shape,” he said.

Dub Karriker, pastor of Christian Assembly Church in Durham, said the food pantry at his church had seen increased demand since the shutdown.

With The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a major source of food normally coming into the pantry, not operating during the shutdown, the pantry had about a third less food to go around.

“It’s killing us,” Karriker said. “We’re scrambling to find other sources.”

Bryan Gilmer, director of marketing and development for Urban Ministries of Durham, said the food pantry there had lost some funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development since the shutdown, and feared things could get worse.

Gilmer was especially wary of a federal government default, also narrowly avoided Wednesday in Washington, and the increased demand it would have caused.

Commissioners at their Monday meeting compared the crisis to Hurricane Katrina, when Durham County rallied to help those affected by the storm, and they said they hoped the community could again rally to support those in need.

Goad: 919-536-8549

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