Government Shutdown May Affect More Than 1200 People In The Wasatch Back With Food Assistance

With the partial government shutdown into the fourth week, the Utah Department of Workforce Services is juggling two important programs to help people get through the financial hardship. They include unemployment pay for eligible, furloughed workers and administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

Utah Department of Workforce Services, Public Information Officer, Wendy Hyatt said about 200,000 people in Utah rely on the SNAP benefits for assistance. Well over a thousand live in Summit and Wasatch Counties.

In Summit county, we have about 250 households that receive SNAP benefits. That’s about 565 individuals. In Wsatch County, there are about 300 households or 704 individuals who receive SNAP benefits.”

Hyatt said due to the shutdown, they had to issue February benefits early. There will be no additional payments made between now and March.

“We want to make sure our customers plan their spending accordingly because any SNAP benefit for March 2019 will be issued on the regular date in March. This means our customers will need to budget their SNAP funds to last through early to mid-March.”

If the government remains unfunded, Hyatt said she does not know if they will be able to administer the SNAP payments to those who need it. She said they are talking daily with the Food and Nutrition Service and the Governor’s office.  The Utah Food Bank has a large warehouse that is full right now.  Normally they cylce through every three weeks.

“She indicated that their warehouse, their warehouse is a fairly large warehouse. They are the central point for about 150 partners state wide like food pantries and other community organizations that deliver the food directly to those in need.  Right now, things are okay.  But if this shut down prolongs, continues, there will be an urgency to increase donations and that sort of thing.” 

There are about 2900 federal employees in Utah who have filed for unemployment insurance. 70 percent are employed with the IRS in Ogden.  Summit and Wasatch County only have a couple dozen who have submitted unemployment claims. The unemployment benefits that federal workers receive will not be charged to Utah’s unemployment trust fund.

“We’re somewhat confident that when the federal government shutdown ends, that furloughed workers would receive backpay for the time during the shutdown. If that happens, then any money received during the shutdown and any unemployment benefits would be paid back.”

Summit County Economic Development Director, Jeff Jones said there are about 200 federal jobs in the County which are mostly military.

“The Bureau of Economic Analysis and my data shows that there are approximately 55 jobs that are classified as federal civilian in Summit county. And, you know those jobs have an average income a little over $70 thousand dollars.”

Jones said small towns can be significantly impacted by just 55 jobs.

“Let’s say we’ve got 55 federal civilian employees.  If a new company were coming to Coalville or Kamas or Oakley or Henefer and they were going to bring 55 new jobs to those communities. That could have a significant impact. And so, conversely, if you lose 55 jobs, provided you were able to determine that all those jobs reside within Summit county, then that could be a significant negative impact.”

KPCW has reported on some of the impacts the shutdown has on pass through federal dollars such as Community Development Block Grants and home fund allocations. See this original story at KPCW.org.

Heber Valley Artisan Cheese held their 2nd annual Ice Sculptures Exhibition this weekend. Several local businesses sponsored the sculptures being displayed. There were also two different ice carving demonstrations. The event was free to the public.

The annual event began last year when Carolee Kohler saw ice sculpting on a Hallmark movie and thought it would be a fun idea for their farm. They are also considering a woodcarving event.

According to Lindsey Strother, social media and events coordinator, each sculpture takes between 1-3 hours to carve. “We contacted Amazing Ice Creations back in November, and we reached out to local companies to sponsor the ice sculptures,” she said. “Yesterday morning around 9 am, they came in a massive truck and dropped them all off for us, and we set them up.”

Along with the ice sculptures, sponsors receive a sign and canopy for the display and social media marketing. The sponsors decide what they want to have sculpted. After the event, they can take the ice sculptures and display them at their businesses. The creations normally last a couple of weeks. Some will be left in the field and can be viewed throughout the week.

The ice this year included Olaf, company logos, animals, and other items. Darron Kingston, the sculptor, has carved ice for over 10 years with his dad. According to Kingston, “I like sculptures that give me a challenge. Here, for example, my favorite was the lumberjack.” One of his favorite past creations was a 9-foot bear.

Grant Kohler, owner of Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, explained, “We decided to do something that was free and something that people could just get out and come and enjoy. Especially this year with Covid, it seems like Januarys are slow months. People are looking for things to be able to get outside and do.” He continued, “Businesses pay in and buy the sculptures, we have them sculpted, and then we just let people come and enjoy them.” Kohler estimated around 3,000 to 4,000 people will stop by the event.

The dairy farm also offers cheese-making classes and tours of their new robotic barn. “The tours are everyday except Sunday,” according to Kohler. “People hayride over, intermingle with the cows, see the barn and amenities, and watch the cows be milked. The cows will literally go get milked on their own.” Tickets for the tours and other events are available on the Heber Valley Artisan Cheese website: https://hebervalleyartisancheese.com/.