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Shutdown could hamper Wilson DSS programs

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Officials discussed during Monday’s county commissioners meeting how a prolonged government shutdown could affect Wilsonians in need.

“You may be wondering about the federal shutdown because a huge percentage of our funding is federal reimbursement,” said Glenn Osborne, director of the Wilson County Department of Social Services. “What we’re being told by our state partners is that there is enough money in the state reserves to carry us through this month and into February, but if we get far into February, we’re into an area of unknown in terms of what the state would do.”

He said the appropriation for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, happens in the fall, so it isn’t immediately being affected by the shutdown, but could be affected if the shutdown continues into February.

“I do think that once the government reopens, the money we spend will be reimbursed, but it is hard to fund much of what we need to do upfront,” Osborne said.

Osborne also presented an update on the state-mandated reform after Executive Director Denise O’Hara presented an update from the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson, including details of the October announcement of a new after-school program for area middle-schoolers in partnership with the Wilson Family YMCA. The project includes work with Wilson County Schools — with a project coordinator located at each middle school to recruit interested students — and the city of Wilson, which will provide a central location for the center.

O’Hara said a survey of 1,700 middle school students and more than 500 parents has helped to determine focus areas of programs such as healthy cooking, staying active, career opportunities and projects that focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Board of Commissioners Chairman Rob Boyette asked about the project’s financial sustainability.

“One of the reasons the YMCA was selected as a site partner is because they had the pro formas to determine how they would be able to sustain this program over the long term,” she said. “The goal is to make this program self-sustaining, so it doesn’t depend on grants, the county or any particular organization for funding. We’ll be looking for some assistance from a couple areas to help in the programming, but the goal and what the YMCA pro forma has shown us is that we believe this will be self-sustaining in about three years.”

The foundation’s 2019 grant cycle is open with initial letters of inquiry due by Jan. 15. Visit for more information on eligibility.

Also during the meeting, Soil and Water Director Ricky Hayes said work began on the $340,352 project to clear debris from Contentnea Creek, but rains stalled the progress after about two miles of work. The county has been awarded an additional $149,400 from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for 12 more miles of Contentnea Creek, but Hayes noted work is likely to extend into 2020.

And while the 2020 U.S. Census is more than a year away, partnership specialist Terry Henderson spoke to commissioners about establishing a local complete count committee made up of community leaders to urge participation in the decennial national count. In 2010, Wilson County reported 75 percent participation — six more percentage points than in 2000 — but Henderson encouraged officials to set the goal of 80 percent or more for 2020.

Unlike in 2010, the 2020 census is set to be conducted online, but broadband access is a struggle, especially in rural areas, so he encouraged officials to develop strategies to ensure every Wilsonian is counted. Participation in the census helps determine the local allocation of state and federal funds as well as representation on a state level in Congress.

“We want everyone to be counted once and in one place because that person is important to your bottom line,” Henderson said.