Raleigh, N.C. — It's deja vu all over again.
Just two months after the end of the last federal budget shutdown, the state Department of Health and Human Services is about to start preparing for another impasse.
The deal that ended the October shutdown extended the federal government's spending authority through Jan. 15. If another deal isn't in place by then, North Carolina could see a repeat of October's scenario, including furloughed workers and service shutdowns, from food aid programs to occupational therapy programs for disabled adults.
Reports coming out of Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon indicate congressional negotiators may be nearing a deal. But If there's no agreement by Friday, the state will start planning for another shutdown.
DHHS Deputy Secretary Sherry Bradsher says her agency will be better prepared for a January shutdown than it was in October.
Financially speaking, the October shutdown happened on the worst possible day for the state – the first day of the federal budget year. No new quarterly transfers had been made to state entitlement programs, which had largely exhausted their cash on hand.
A Jan. 15 shutdown would be easier to weather financially, Bradsher said.
"You've had a quarter of funding for all of these programs and services," she said. "Not every dollar gets spent. So, you're hoping that there's a little bit there."
Also, the second quarter's funds should be available Jan. 1, well before the deadline, Bradsher added.
"We're going to be sitting there ready to draw down any of those federal funds," she said. "That will help us with January services, and maybe even February, if it were to go on for any long length of time."
She said state and local human services agencies are also working on how to staff critical services despite potential furloughs of federally funded workers.
"We're sitting around the table together, talking about what went well the first time [in October], what we want to do differently next time, and how do we identify those things that we want to prioritize," Bradsher said.