Fairfax County Caught in a Bind as Government Shutdown Drags On

One month into the government shutdown, Fairfax County is starting to feel the squeeze.

Accordingly, state and local governments have started enacting measures to try to give relief to furloughed workers. On Jan. 14, Virginia’s Department of Social Services announced that SNAP (food stamp) recipients will receive the February food benefits in January.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is also hosting its third hiring event tonight (Wednesday) to give furloughed workers a chance to work as substitute teachers. The event is set to run from 5-7:30 p.m. at the FCPS administration building in Merrifield (8115 Gatehouse Road).

“We always have a need for substitute teachers,” said John Torre, public information officer for FCPS. “On average, we hire 900 to 1,100 subs every day. For furloughed workers, we are expediting the hiring process and many of those who attended the first two events have already been placed in schools as substitute teachers.”

At yesterday’s (Tuesday) meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors even considered delaying the Feb. 15 deadline for car tax payments.

But Professor Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University, warned that delays in payment collection could have a ripple effect on county services. According to Shafroth:

“There will be significant and hard issues in a county affected by thousands of residents abruptly working without pay — issues such as the county’s needs to try and fill in the gaps in emergency services (inability to pay utility bills, purchase enough food, get a child to the doctor, etc.). I know the county has already considering steps to delay some car tax payments — sort of a double whammy, because it would reduce revenues to the county, even as it is providing desperately needed services over and beyond its adopted budget. The impact will be disproportionate in Fairfax county, because that is the home to nearly 20% of all federal workers in our region.”

Shafroth said there are roughly 5,000 families that rent in Fairfax, and there are concerns inside the county government that those families could be evicted if they’re unable to pay rent or unable to access work, pharmacies or groceries if they’re not able to continue making car payments. In providing relief for these vital services, Shafroth says the county government will have to do triage on the services at risk for families of federal employees and work with providers to continue those services.

“That is, without any uncertainty how long the President’s shut down will last, the county is under pressure to put health and safety of its citizens first,” said Shafroth. “That will impose hard choices on the county’s leaders: in effect, the White House is shifting a fiscal burden to the county: will that mean the county will have to consider higher fees and taxes? What will it cost to help an estimated 5,000 families at risk of losing rental assistance?”

Among the services at risk, Shafroth said free and reduced-price meals at public schools could eventually be on the chopping block and other necessities for low-income residents.

“Because there is a disproportionate number of families who either work directly or by contract for the federal government, the county is projecting the potential hole in housing assistance payments could total as much as $5 million a month — in this bitter weather, that is hardly an option,” said Shafroth. “Fairfax County will find itself not only overwhelmed by demands for public service — especially those involving lives at risk — but all coming even as revenues will be depleted from receiving less in sales and use taxes, and other revenues: the candle will be burned at both ends.”

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority has also compiled a list of services provided for employees affected by the shutdown:

  • Hotline available for assistance: Individuals in need can contact Fairfax County’s Coordinated Services Planning staff at 703-222-0880 (TTY 711) for assistance in connecting to resources. This service is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The multilingual staff can assist callers in multiple foreign languages.
  • Unemployment benefits: Federal government employees who have been separated from their job due to the shutdown and have questions about benefits should contact the Virginia Employment Commission. The phone number for the Customer Contact Center is 866-832-2263.
  • Free lunch program: FCPS announced on Jan. 8 that meals for breakfast and lunch will be provided to all students regardless of their ability to pay, and unpaid balances will be allowed to build up without immediate repercussions for the duration of the shutdown.
  • Northern Virginia Community College: NOVA’s Workforce and Economic Development Office is offering a free (non-credit) class to furloughed federal employees and contractors. Employees can choose from select Business & Management, IT & Computer Skills, and Professional Development classes. Some classes have prerequisites and proof of federal employment is required. Call 703-878-5770 or visit the web site for further information.
  • George Mason University’s School of Business will hold career skills workshops — free to furloughed workers and government contractor employees affected by the shutdown — on Jan. 31 at its Arlington campus.
  • Child Care Assistance and Referral Program: For families in the CCAR program with a 12-month eligibility, those without income can request that child care co-payments be lowered. CCAR staff are available discuss their ongoing child care needs. Call 703-449-8484 or email [email protected].
  • School Age Child Care: Families impacted by the federal government shutdown may continue to use services and apply for a reduced fee and/or develop a payment plan. Alternatively, families may request temporary inactive status, which allows families to maintain a child’s enrollment in SACC. Call 703-449-8989 or email saccregistration@fairfaxcounty.gov.
  • Free Connector Bus Rides: Fairfax Connector will provide free rides system-wide for federal government employees affected by the government shutdown who are still required to report for work. Eligible riders must present a federal photo ID to the bus operator. For schedules and route information, estimated arrival times, and more, sign up for email and/or text alerts through Fairfax Connector BusTracker.
  • Reston Community Center is waiving summer camp fees for children of families affected by the shutdown.
  • Pet Supplies: The county Animal Shelter has pet food and a limited amount of other supplies available for furloughed federal employees. The supplies are available during shelter business hours and no is appointment needed. For information, call 703-830-1100 or email animalshelter@fairfaxcounty.gov.

Photo via FCPS

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