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With the partial federal shutdown in its fourth week, city of Evanston officials are taking to steps to identify and help those who might be affected.

At the regular Evanston City Council meeting Jan. 14, officials announced that Evanston residents who are employed by the federal government and not receiving their paychecks may qualify for the City’s Emergency Assistance program.

  The program, which is administered by the City’s Health and Human Services Department, has been  used in the past to help  residents facing a crisis, such as displacement due to  a fire.

To qualify for  the program, federal employees must reside  in Evanston  and provide proof that they are furloughed, officials said. Documentation may include a pay stub or letter from their employer, officials said in a release.

Community members may apply in person for  the program at the city’s General  Assistance Office, located in Room 1600 at the Morton Civic Center,  2100 Ridge Ave.

In addition, the City has designated an ombudsman to connect furloughed residents with other resources that may be available to them.

To apply, residents may call 3-1-1 or text 847-448-4311.

At the Jan. 14 City Council meeting, Sarah Flax, with the City’s Community Development Department, outlined for council members some of the possible impacts of the shutdown.

Under the appropriations bill, nine federal  agencies were most affected, she said. Some of them have more impact on residents than others, said Ms. Flax, going down the list.

One of those, the Department of  Agriculture, provides  funds  to the  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well  as the Women, Infants & Children  Program (WIC). For SNAP, federal benefits for February will be issued on Jan. 20, she said.

Because of the timing, there is concern that people may use up their benefits early, she said.  “The other thing is a lot of people don’t have space to store things. How do you get fresh produce? It’s  going to make that challenging. After that we don’t know what’s happening to SNAP after that,” she told aldermen.

The Department of Housing & Urban Development, another of the affected agencies, covers project- based housing vouchers for low income people.  If HUD doesn’t make its monthly payments to the Housing  Authority Cook County  that agency may not be able to release funds to pay for the units, Flax said.

The City also has “a significant number of units” for senior housing and people with disabilities. Those funds come directly from HUD, Flax said.

Ms. Flax said she spoke  to  managers from Ebenezer Primm Towers, at 1001 Emerson St.,  and Jacob  Blake Manor, at 1615 Emerson St., which serve senior populations. She said the challenge is “there may be funding available, but there is nobody at HUD to submit draws (requests) to,” she said.

Monthly housing payments of Housing Choice Vouchers will be affected too, posing a real challenge as of March 1, Ms. Flax said.

Other services which could be affected are Treasury  tax returns and refunds) Homeland Security, the State Department (visas and passports) Transportation (air traffic controllers)) and Commerce (economic data and the 2020 Census), and the  Justice Department, she  said.

The City has an estimated 3,332 government employees out of  a 36,458 civilian work force, Ms. Flax  said, according to one survey,  but the number  of federal employees in that group is unknown.

“But we know we have people here who are affected,” she said in her presentation, “and their ability to rent, mortgage, buy food are going to be affected. It also affects  the businesses  that serve them.”

For instance, with the SNAP program, recipients typically stock up after receiving their benefits. The local stores which sell the goods time the activity around the time people come in, she said. “So we don’t know what will happen there either.”

“The General Assistance Office is going to be able to see if people are eligible for emergency assistance,” Ms. Flax said, “and also route them to other providers for other things. We’re also publicizing Interfaith Action, (which)  has  a very  robust network of soup kitchens and food pantries that actually anybody is eligible for.”

As of Jan. 15, the City had someone  in  place,  to speak with callers over 3-1-1 and better understand what their needs are, added City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

While the City doesn’t have a fix on how many employees are affected, the numbers should be manageable, he said.

“We’ll do our best to provide, as individuals needs assistance, as we can,” he said, mentioning the City’s working with local banks to provide low interest loans. 

“There are multiple resources available,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said. “I think’s just a matter of being able to connect those resources, which are most available, to Evanston residents.”


Local Help

A local resident who has been working to see how individuals and families can help federal employees who are furloughed or working without pay contacted the RoundTable with the following information from the U.S. Coast Guard the USO: “Organizations and individuals wishing to donate to Chicago-area Coast Guard units are encouraged to contact Chief Warrant Officer Matthew James from USCG Station Calumet Harbor, IL via email at matthew.d.james@uscg.mil. CWO James may accept donations on behalf of the United States Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officers Association. You can learn more about the CWOA via this link: http://cwoauscg.org. At this time, the four local Coast Guard commands are still engaged in their operational missions, therefore its best to avoid collecting and donating perishables or canned goods as they lack a centralized storage/distribution location and the volunteers to manage donated goods.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.