Mayors fear federal shutdown's lasting effect on health, housing, transportation
- As the partial federal government shutdown continues to linger, mayors say it has affected cities’ public health and housing services and could have long-term impacts in areas such as transportation if it persists much longer.
- At a press conference in Washington, DC to mark the start of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ (USCM) Winter Meeting, elected leaders said they are being forced to be creative to help those who are furloughed and their families where the federal government would ordinarily play a role. That includes providing temporary loans to help people make their mortgage payments and replacing federal payments to public housing, with cities also exploring how to help support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if that program comes under threat.
- "Everyone's going to have to get pretty creative in trying to meet the needs of our citizens," Columbia, SC Mayor and current USCM President Steve Benjamin said during the press conference.
The partial federal government shutdown has careered past the 30-day mark with seemingly no end in sight, as Congress and the White House continue to negotiate. And at the city level, local leaders have been stepping in to try and ease the pain for their residents. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who said more than 70,000 of the city’s residents and their families are furloughed, said the city would introduce a temporary loan program for those federal workers who may not be able to make their mortgage payment this month.
The $9 million program will be administered through the DC Housing Finance Agency, and Bowser said it is important for cities to step up in residents’ hour of need. "We are all struggling to make sure that the quality of lives of our residents aren't disrupted,” she said. “We, perhaps more than anybody, are in the belly of the beast of this shutdown."
Madison, WI Mayor Paul Soglin said the partial shutdown has caused a “whole cascading series of problems” for city residents looking to buy a home with the help of loans from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). He said buyers are in limbo, as leases on their rented apartments have expired, but they are unable to close on their house, while sellers are also left mired in uncertainty.
Soglin said that given the problems of housing affordability in U.S. cities, the delay of FHA loans has a ripple effect that will be felt by many people. "This is becoming a crisis in a number of our cities, which is not going to contribute to the stability of housing, which is a major issue in this country,” Soglin said.
Mayors also said the shutdown would hurt their push for a new federal infrastructure package, something that has been mooted for some time but has so far failed to gain much traction in Congress. Soglin said if delays continue in allocating federal grants in areas like transportation and law enforcement, the ramifications could be felt next year and in 2021 at the city level.
And New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said it is a “unique challenge” for cities reliant on federal grant dollars to not receive them in a timely fashion, with agencies like the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) accused before the shutdown of slow-walking the release of those funds. "We definitely need the federal government to get back to work, because every day that they're not at work is a day that our people go without," Cantrell said.
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