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Federal shutdown relief only short term for school, meals programs
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Federal shutdown relief only short term for school, meals programs

Bill that reopened government full of pet projects

Federal shutdown relief only short term for school, meals programs

State officials were worried money for everything from research and rural bus services to nutrition and student aid would run out before a federal budget agreement was reached this week.

But because that agreement was only temporary, they may be dusting off their contingency plans again in January, just in time for a politically charged legislative session.

State agencies were asked in late September to submit reports on how their programs would be impacted by the government shutdown. Gov. Nathan Deal made it clear the state wouldn’t fill in the gaps for the loss of federal funding, despite a growing state surplus.

The reports, obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, suggest minimal impact on state services during a short-term shutdown. Beyond about a month, the story would have been different.

“Should the federal government face an extended shutdown of several weeks or longer, agencies may have to temporarily halt some programs or even furlough … employees,” an Office of Planning and Budget summary said. “The state will not be able to utilize state funds to offset the loss of federal funds except for those activities where a lapse in funding or personnel would create a life or safety concern.”

The state spends about $12 billion in federal funding each year on everything from public health care and food stamps to special education programs. Federal money makes up about a third of the state’s annual budget, and its importance has grown since the start of the Great Recession. In addition, the state university system gets about $1.4 billion in federal money, mostly in research grants and aid for students coming from low-income families.

Some of the biggest areas of federal funding, such as Medicaid, the health care program for 1.8 million Georgia poor, disabled and elderly, weren’t impacted by the shutdown.

But a host of other areas could have been affected had the shutdown dragged on.

The University System said largest schools, such as the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State, had the money to cover the loss of research grant money in the short run, about 30 days or so.

Had the shutdown gone on, “Research activities would need to be suspended, resulting in furloughs and/or layoffs,” the system’s report on the shutdown said.

Students in the University System get about $550 million in federal Pell Grants to help pay for school. “Institutions would have no way to cover Pell and other federally funded aid if they were unable to draw (federal funds),” the system report said. “Disruptions to federal student aid programs could also create enrollment challenges for the upcoming semesters, which could have a domino effect, impacting other activities in the University System.”

Other areas of state government would also have been hit. The Department of Transportation said it wouldn’t process funding for small urban and rural transit systems. Several nutrition efforts, including meals for students and the elderly, faced running out of money, as did other assistance programs.

Some pre-k, Head Start and Early Head Start programs were only reopened during the shutdown because philanthropists came up with the money to fund them for a few weeks.

While this week’s temporary settlement eased the immediate pressure on state programs, officials may have to begin worrying all over again in a few months if a longer term deal is not reached.

The agreement extended federal funding until Jan. 15. The government’s authority to borrow money extended until Feb. 7.

So if no deal is done in Congress, the funding issue could return when the General Assembly hits Atlanta. The 2014 session starts Jan. 13.

Typically lawmakers can drag out a session if they are waiting for word on federal funding from Washington. They have done that a few times in the past decade, with one session stretching into late April.

But next year, Deal and all 236 legislators will be up for election. Several state legislators are running for Congress. Primaries were shifted from July to May 20, so lawmakers will want to speed through the 2014 session as quickly as possible.

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