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Hours, programs, staff will be cut at Heartland in the event of shutdown

WILLMAR -- A popular energy assistance and home weatherization program, an emergency housing program and childcare referral service will all be shut down next month if there's no state budget agreement in place by July 1.

Heartland Community Action Agency also announced Thursday that 35 employees will be either laid off or have hours reduced. Hours will also be cut at Heartland's offices, including the one in Willmar.

"It's overwhelming right now," said Joan Macik, executive director of Heartland, which serves Kandiyohi, Meeker, McLeod and Renville counties.

"It's been tough work, let me tell you, to think about what maybe lies ahead of us," she said.

The agency has been discussing how to respond to the state budget crisis "ever since we got wind of a possible shutdown," Macik said.

Because funding for Heartland comes from a combination of county, state, federal and foundation funds, not all programs will be affected by a shutdown.

But even though Heartland receives most of its funding through the federal government, much of that money is run through the state government, including the Office of Economic Opportunity, which is part of the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Commerce.

Because those state departments would be shutdown, Heartland will not receive funding for some programs during a shutdown.

That, in turn, will have negative "trickle down" effects on individuals and families, she said. "It's going to cause a lot of chaos in the community."

Heartland's weatherization program provides $1.8 million in business to more than 30 local, privately owned heating, cooling, electrical and construction companies, Macek said.

Those jobs will be lost.

The work that's done, like installing new windows or adding insulation, are done during summer months to help reduce energy costs for low-income homeowners who see annual average savings of $1,067.

The energy assistance program, which pays 62 local propane and electrical vendors about $1.4 million and makes over $160,000 in payments to 17 local vendors for emergency furnace repairs, would also stop functioning in a state shutdown.

Heartland's emergency housing program provides crisis housing for people who are homeless or about to become homeless. Shutting down that program means first-months rent, mortgage payments or vouchers for hotel rooms will not be available.

"That's huge," said Macek, who fears the increasing number of homeless will grow even more if the emergency housing program is temporarily shutdown.

"That means they won't have a bed to sleep in," said Macek. "I have very grave concerns."

Reducing hours or laying off about 35 Heartland employees will also have a negative ripple effect in the community because those individuals may have a difficult time paying their mortgage, buying groceries or feeding their children, said Macek.

If a state shutdown does occur, office hours in all four counties will be reduced. New hours will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Some programs that operate with donations from foundations will not be affected with the shutdown, like Heartland's second-hand store in Litchfield and the Helping People Get There car donation program.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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