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Butte-Silver Bow Health Department

The Butte-Silver Bow Health Department is located at 25 W. Front St.

As most of us with a pulse know, a dispute over funding to build a wall at the Mexico border has resulted in a partial government shutdown that affects the public’s health and other matters of local interest.

Chief among those items of local interest is the fact that, because of the shutdown, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is out of funding and largely shuttered. That means Butte’s point person, EPA remedial project manager Nikia Greene, has been furloughed. Also furloughed are other EPA officials at the state office in Helena and officials at Region 8 offices in Denver.

When the federal government is fully functioning, work related to Superfund advances in Butte because of Greene’s attentive oversight and partnership with local officials. While there is no immediate impact to “micro” day-to-day operations — county Superfund Operations & Maintenance crews carry out much of this work — don’t look for any immediate action related to the “macro” big decisions related to Butte’s cleanup.

Congress has already passed five major appropriations bills, and that action has resulted in funding about 75 percent of the federal government, including most of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But seven appropriations bills remain unauthorized, and that affects funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) recently issued a news release saying the inability to approve funds to keep the entire federal government open “is unacceptable and poses a threat to public health. This shutdown is a political failure, and APHA urges the government to put ideology aside and reach a funding solution as soon as possible.” The release was issued 17 days ago.

Of primary concern in relation to the shutdown is the fact that millions of Americans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, otherwise known as food stamps, could see that assistance interrupted. SNAP, administered by the Department of Agriculture, has not been allocated funding beyond the end of January. (Congress has appropriated emergency funding for SNAP, but this would not cover all of February’s distributions.)

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is not receiving funding during the shutdown but continues at the state level, which funds the local WIC program located at the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department. The local WIC program has stable funding, but a lengthy shutdown — President Donald Trump has said the shutdown could last months or even years — could affect local services.

An article published by CBS News this week said other nutrition programs for children, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk will continue operations through February.

APHA said the shutdown, in addition to a disruption in services, also results in the interruption of research and regulation, and costs affected agencies “time and money that they won’t be able to make up.”

Added APHA, “We urge those who have used brinksmanship to advance a single ideological cause to do their basic duty as government leaders and approve long-term funding for all federal agencies and programs.”

Agreed.

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Karen Sullivan is Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer and Director of the Health Department. Her column, The Public's Health, appears weekly on The Montana Standard's health page.

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