A dozen furloughed federal employees went to Mother Lode Jobs Training on Mono Way this week for help filing for unemployment.

The Stanislaus Interagency Hotshots base near Mother Lode Fairgrounds is still open but it looks deserted. More than 80 percent of the Stanislaus National Forest’s mid-January workforce of 330 employees are not going to get paychecks Friday.

From the empty parking spaces at the federally managed forest headquarters on Greenley Road to the fenced hotshots base off Stockton Road, the partial federal government shutdown is evident in some Sonora neighborhoods and across the Mother Lode.

Tuolumne and Calaveras counties are home to more than 550 federal government employees, according to state Employment Development Department data updated Dec. 21, the day the current shutdown began.

What percentage of those 550 workers are now on unpaid furlough is unclear. Mother Lode Jobs Training, the federally funded joint powers authority that runs job centers in Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, including its headquarters location in Sonora, has statistics that show more than 700 federal employees in Calaveras and Tuolumne, including military personnel, but they don’t show how many are furloughed.

At least 20 people have filed for federal unemployment at Mother Lode Jobs Training on Mono Way since Friday. A park ranger who works in Yosemite National Park filed for federal unemployment Wednesday in Sonora and said he had been undecided whether he should file. He hoped the shutdown would end soon. If he receives unemployment compensation he might have to pay the money back when he returns to work.

A federal Department of Agriculture source, who declined to be named, said Thursday the “vast majority” of Stanislaus National Forest employees are furloughed, including more than 100 firefighting personnel.

In a typical mid-January, about 150 people would be on duty for firefighting training, equipment maintenance, planning prescribed burns, and preparing for this year’s fire season in the 1,400-square-mile Stanislaus National Forest.

Whether the shutdown’s impacts on forest staffing will prove to be a setback for fire crews depends on how soon fire season starts this spring and summer. If the dry season holds off until late June or July, shutdown impacts could be minimal but if fire season begins in March valuable preparation time will have been lost.

Fire dangers are minimal now due to recent rains and snowfall in the Stanislaus and Tuolumne watersheds. Firefighting staff remain on call at a moment’s notice.

A public information officer said in a Dec. 26 text, “The forest is shut down” but many facilities remain open, and the Agriculture source expressed gratitude to volunteers who have helped try to keep Forest Service areas of Pinecrest clean in spite of no federal funding for trash removal and toilet cleaning.

Hundreds of Yosemite National Park employees are also not working. Mother Lode Jobs Training data shows more than 660 civilian federal employees in Mariposa County alone. As of Jan. 10, the park remained open.

Dave Thoeny, executive director for Mother Lode Job Training, said his agency is federally funded and is so far unaffected by the shutdown. The state has received federal money for the program to operate through April, Thoeny said, adding the program’s budget is about $4 million annually.

The Stanislaus Interagency Hotshots base on South Forest Road off Stockton looked like it was closed for the season. A padlock on a chain appeared to be locked but it was in fact open.

Social Services

Thousands of people in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties rely on federally funded programs for basic survival services such as food stamps and Meals on Wheels and senior lunches. There’s no single answer on what the partial federal government shutdown means for recipients of these services.

Here’s part of the big picture as of Jan. 10:

In Tuolumne County as of November 2018, more than 4,400 adults and children receive CalFresh, the Golden State equivalent of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps, Rebecca Espino, deputy director of Tuolumne County’s Department of Social Services, said this week.

“The federal government plans to fund CalFresh (SNAP/Food Stamps) through February 2019,” Espino said.

Also in Tuolumne County, there are about 800 individuals on CalFresh who also receive CalWORKs cash assistance, Espino said. There are also 11,487 individuals in Tuolumne County receiving Medi-Cal government health insurance, Espino said.

CalWorks and Medi-Cal funding were not affected by the lapse of federal appropriations and funding, Espino said, adding, “As of today, we have not heard from the state or the feds on whether these programs will be affected.”

Meals on Wheels

Other basic food-based assistance programs in Tuolumne County rely on federal funding.

Leon Casas is chief executive officer for Sierra Senior Provider Inc., a private nonprofit that contracts with Tuolumne County to provide hot, home-delivered meals five days a week, called Meals on Wheels, and senior lunches at three locations in Sonora, Jamestown and Groveland.

Staff and volunteers with Sierra Senior Provider deliver 200 Meals on Wheels daily countywide, and they serve between 50 and 60 senior lunches daily, Casas said in a phone interview. The Sonora location is Tuolumne County Senior Center at 540 Greenley Road.

The total budget for Meals on Wheels in Tuolumne County is about $455,000 annually and about 40 percent of that is federal funding, Casas said. He said he didn’t know the total annual budget for the senior lunch program, but he said that is also about 40 percent federally funded.

“At this point we’re not affected,” Casas said. “At this point we haven’t been given any forewarning that our programs are going to be affected, so we’re continuing to function as normal. In terms of the federal monies, basically it’s Meals on Wheels and also our senior lunch program.”

Housing assistance

Tuolumne County housing assistance programs, including First Time Homebuyer and Owner Occupied Rehabilitation programs, aren’t affected by the shutdown because they utilize grant funding that has already been allocated and are paid on a reimbursement basis, Sheila Shanahan, program coordinator for Tuolumne County’s Community Resources Agency Housing Division, said this week.

“Eventually it will affect the timeliness of our reimbursements,” Shanahan said.

A Tuolumne County rental assistance program -- the Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program -- is administered by the Stanislaus County Housing Authority for Tuolumne County, Shanahan said.

Jim Kruse, the deputy director overseeing rental assistance in Tuolumne County, could not be reached.

Calaveras County

In Calaveras County, Kristin Brinks, the county Health and Human Services Agency director, said that should the federal shutdown continue into February, “there is the potential that Californians who utilize CalFresh food assistance benefits (known as SNAP at the federal level) could see their benefits impacted.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a federally funded program that is subject to federal appropriation and the state does not share in the cost of these benefits, Brinks said.

“There is no existing mechanism for the state to pay for CalFresh benefits should the federal government be unable to do so,” Brinks said. “That said, counties are working closely with state partners and our automation systems to review newly released federal guidance that we hope will allow us to avoid impacts to benefits for CalFresh recipients in February.”

The newly released federal guidance was received in Calaveras County on Tuesday night, Brinks said. Calaveras County staff will continue to work with federal, state and local partners to minimize impacts.

Meals on Wheels and other Older American Act programs in Calaveras County will not be affected by the partial federal government shutdown, Kristin Millhoff with Area 12 Agency on Aging said Thursday.

The longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history was 21 days in December 1995 and January 1996 under President Bill Clinton. As of Thursday, the shutdown that began Dec. 21 reached 20 days.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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