Jail braces for late payments on federal inmates
On a Monday afternoon, Columbia County Sheriff's Capt. Tony Weaver is crunching numbers and working closely with the U.S. Marshals Office to come up with an interest rate to charge them.
The Columbia County Jail, which Weaver oversees, is housing about 55 federal inmates on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Office.
Holding federal prisoners has been a years-long practice for the county jail, but in the midst of a partial federal government shutdown, jail officials say they aren't sure when the jail will be reimbursed for the cost of housing those inmates.
"We are guaranteed to get paid, but not on time," Weaver said.
Relaying information his department received from the U.S. Marshals Office, he says the Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail, receives about $92 a day per inmate to cover the cost of meals, housing and everyday expenses associated with keeping someone in custody. USM holds account for nearly 35 percent of the jail's inmate population, jail records show.
"Federal marshal holds are an important piece of our funding picture," Weaver notes, but the Sheriff's Office has been informed that any invoices submitted for services after Dec. 21 likely won't be paid until the partial shutdown ends.
"The U.S. Marshals Office is sending us some paperwork on how we can go about charging interest on payments not paid on time," Weaver explained. "One of the other things this partial shutdown has affected is some of their employees were furloughed because they're considered non-essential, so the normal way business is done is interrupted."
The partial shutdown of the government has been going on since late December, when Congress and President Donald Trump failed to reach a budget agreement that included $5.7 billion for funding a U.S. border wall on Dec. 21. As a result, federal employees classified as "essential" have been required to continue working. Many federal facilities and agencies shut their doors or operated with bare minimum staffing.
While the county jail says it likely won't get paid on time this month, federal and local food assistance agencies are reporting a brighter scenario.
The state's largest food bank reported Wednesday that Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are expected to continue through January and February.
"Likewise, we understand from the USDA that WIC funding is stable through February, and that school meal funding is secure through March," an announcement from Oregon Food Bank stated.
In Columbia County, Columbia Pacific Food Bank workers say their supply is stable through the next few months and they haven't seen any increased demand for free food, yet.
"We are discussing internally how to manage what would be an increase in the need for food if we get to the point where (SNAP recipients) lose those benefits for a period of time," Casey Wheeler, executive director of the food bank, stated Thursday. "We will continue to receive normal USDA (TEFAP) food through March."
OFB also noted it is partnering with agencies across the state to reach furloughed federal workers who are likely going to miss a paycheck and may need access to food assistance.