Bills piling up for SC federal workers, benefit recipients
Federal employee Thomas Talmadge still is working despite the federal government’s partial shutdown. He just isn’t getting paid.
Talmadge, a drug-treatment specialist at the Edgefield Federal Correctional Institution, is considered an essential employee like others in the federal prison system. So he is commuting to work at the prison, even as he missed his paycheck this week and his bills pile up.
“I’ve got an 86-year-old father, one child in college and another in middle school,” Talmadge said Thursday. He worries his co-workers could start leaving their federal job “be- cause the bill collectors don’t stop working.”
Talmadge was one of a halfdozen federal employees who protested Thursday outside U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Columbia office as the federal shutdown dragged on for a third week. The workers want the federal government to reopen and give them their pay. They aren’t the only ones. If the shutdown continues, thousands of South Carolinians could see federal benefits — that guarantee they have food and a place to live — disappear.
In December, 617,516 South Carolinians were part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — program, which distributes food stamps through the S.C. Depart-
ment of Social Services. Another 21,305 South Carolinians received cash assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in November — 16,974 of them children.
SNAP is funded through January. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans Tuesday to cover SNAP recipients during February by asking states to request the money before Jan. 20.
But no funding would be available for March, if the impasse were to last that long.
Likewise, funding for Section 8 housing will continue through February, allowing 4,000 recipients in Richland County and 2,000 in Lexington County to continue to make rent payments next month. After that, it is unclear if any money will be available for the program which subsidizes housing costs for lowincome citizens.
“It’s at the discretion of the landlord,” said Taleshia Stewart, administration director of the Columbia Housing Authority. “Right now, we’re just watching and waiting, and hoping there’s a resolution as we move closer to March 1.”
The S.C. State Housing Finance and Development Authority, which administers Section 8 payments in Lexington County, is more concerned about the mortgages it handles for lowincome homebuyers.
Loan processing at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has slowed to a crawl, said spokesman Clayton Ingram.
“If it’s not a problem, it’s at least extremely inconvenient,” Ingram said.
This week, taxpayers got a reprieve as the White House announced the Internal Revenue Service will issue tax refunds beginning this month, despite 88 percent of the agency’s staff being furloughed.
Federal courthouses also have continued operating through the shutdown as an essential service. But money that has been paying the courthouse bills is expected to run out as early as Friday, meaning staff would work without pay.
As of Thursday, the federal government partially had been shut down for 20 days. There is no end in sight as President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress continue to debate money for the president’s proposed border wall.
That economic anxiety is what drove federal employees to Graham’s Columbia office, said Johnny Allen with Local 1915 of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“They need to put this aside, this supposed crisis, and stop using federal government employees as pawns,” Allen said.
Reached for comment, Graham’s office said the senator is committed to ending the shutdown. But the Seneca Republican insists Democrats must agree to wall funding.
By the end of the day, however, Graham had told Washington reporters, “We’re stuck.”
Gary Votour, Johnny Allen and Tony Howell protest Thursday outside Lindsey Graham’s Columbia office, wanting the federal government to reopen and give them their pay.