Roosevelt Island and the Government Shutdown: What You Need to Know

January 13, 2019

Though we live on an Island far from Washington, D.C., the government shutdown that began on December 22 will have an impact here, jeopardizing housing, food, and transportation on and off the Island. As you know, it began when Democrats in Congress and Trump could not agree on the president's demand for $5 billion in funding to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border.



The United States census from 2010 found that 13.5% of Islanders live below the poverty level and it is possible that the shutdown could have an outsized impact on that vulnerable population, jeopardizing access to food and putting housing at risk of being lost.


Public Transportation: From Bad to Worse


Living on an Island, many of us need to take public transportation to go to school or work, or take care of some of our basic needs. Our access to that transportation may change, depending on how long the shutdown continues.


weekend route changes, F-line,


New York Senator Chuck Schumer believes the MTA can last another four weeks without needing to seek that funding from somewhere. Without funds from Washington, which are allocated for track repair work and construction projects, the MTA may have to cut back service or borrow money. “They can last another four weeks, but after that, [the MTA has] got real trouble,” Schumer said during a news conference last weekend. “They may have to borrow, which would increase their costs. They may have to cut back, which would be a very bad thing.”


Even before the partial shutdown, the MTA said the agency is facing a budget gap of $991 million by 2022. In November, the transit agency announced two new options for fare and toll increases next year, as well as possible service cuts.


In a news conference last weekend, Senator Chuck Schumer explained that the MTA receives $150 million in reimbursements every month from the Federal Transit Administration.

In addition, according to the the MTA’s 2017 Annual Report, $35 million came from federal grants that year. 


These numbers don't include the $1.374 billion received for the Second Avenue Subway and the $2.699 billion for the East Side Access project, states the 2017 report.


Since the shutdown, none of that money has been received.


A Place to Live


According to Roosevelt Island Residents Association Housing Committee Chair, Eunequa Lewis, 2-4 River Road receives funds through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) project-based Section 8 program. On December 21, Congress failed to provide 2019 funding for several federal agencies, including HUD and USDA, causing a partial government shutdown and putting thousands of vulnerable Americans in jeopardy, including those that reside in 2-4 River Road.


Eunequa Lewis organized a tenants association in her building, 2-4 River Road. They attended the Save Our Homes Conference and joined the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT).


On January 4, HUD did send letters to 1,500 landlords, asking them not to evict their tenants - residents in housing assistance programs.


The number of expiring contracts will increase as time goes on, as HUD anticipates approximately 500 additional contracts (affecting another 30,000 to 40,000 households) will expire and be up for renewal in January, and an additional 550 in February.


Food Assistance


Because the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains closed, Islanders dependant on food assistance programs in New York City, including SNAP, WIC, and School Foods, could face problems.


About 1.5 million people in the city who receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will continue to receive benefits through January. While it was originally anticipated that those benefits would run out in February, the USDA announced Tuesday that they are working with states to ensure that benefits don't dry up.


U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced a plan that day to ensure full benefits for participants in SNAP for the month of February. 


March, however, is another story. If the shutdown lasts until then, the USDA could be forced to dip into its reserves to help fund the program, and its $3 billion SNAP contingency fund won't cover a full month of benefits


Those in the Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program are expected to still receive benefits through February as well, although there is no guarantee funding will continue after the month has passed. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has prior year funding which USDA will begin to provide this week to facilitate February benefits.



One Bright Spot


In “good” news, Medicare payments have continued. Additionally, the shutdown should have little effect on Social Security checks. According to the Social Security Administration's shutdown contingency plan, most core programs and benefits would continue in the event of a shutdown.


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