REACH struggles through shutdown; Forest Service maintained ‘essentials’

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Abraham Mahshie – Contributing Writer

Women who suffer domestic violence and sexual assault have few places to turn in Macon and Jackson counties. One of those places has been the non-profit organization REACH of Macon County, which was forced to reduce its victim offerings to essential services during the federal government shutdown.

“Did we close our doors? No,” said Assistant Director Jennifer Turner-Lynn. “What happened is we did have to cut back on other forms of support that some of our clients may have relied on.”

REACH provides a range of services and victim advocacy, including an emergency shelter, court advocacy, and a 24-hour hotline, but was forced to suspend all but essential services when federal government reimbursements were held up as a result of the government shutdown.

During the organization’s fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2018, it served 707 unique victims, including 126 in its shelter.

Turner-Lynn said the organization is accustomed to waiting 2-3 months before receiving reimbursements on its six federal funding sources, but by the December 22 start of the government shutdown, it’s three months of reserves were depleted. 

“We sent out a plea, basically saying, ‘Look we are having to cut back to only essential services,” she said of a letter from the REACH board posted on its Facebook page. 

Turner-Lynn said the organization scaled-back on travel, conferences, training and could no longer provide assistance for victims’ transition from shelters to sustainable housing, which sometimes takes the form of helping to pay rent and electric bills. “The community made bridging that gap possible.”

Turner-Lynn said faith-based organizations that usually donate later in the year were asked to donate early, while private donors gave $25 contributions or even gave basic and sorely needed, in-kind donations like toilet paper to help stock the 10 rooms at REACH’s battered women’s shelter.

Church of the Incarnation in Highlands, and Franklin’s United Methodist Church even collected donations on Sundays to help the organization continue to serve victims. Sales at the organization’s thrift store also provides a vital revenue source.

Though not in as precarious a situation, Turner-Lynn said REACH is bracing for another government shutdown if Congress doesn’t meet a Feb. 15 negotiating deadline.

 “We’re viewing this as the eye of the storm,” she said, noting that nonessential spending is still suspended “until we know for sure that the government has re-opened and our reimbursements are being processed.”

Forest Service worked without pay, 

suspended road clearing

U.S. Forest Service workers at the Nantahala Ranger District station on Sloan Road worked without pay to keep sites open including Dry Falls, Whiteside Falls and the USFS’s two gun ranges. Fees were collected and clearing continued on some of the roadways affected by the December ice storm.

“Everything essential, we were doing,” said Nantahala District Ranger Mike Wilkins. That meant many of the 27 local Forest Service workers worked without pay for the month while about 10 employees were completely furloughed. 

Fire year funding gave Wilkins the flexibility to bring on some staff on a part-time basis to clear roads. Other duties typically conducted during the winter, including timber marking, landline maintenance and permit sales, had to be delayed until the government was reopened on January 25.

Gated roads that normally remain closed from January to April were littered with fallen tree branches until the government reopened.

“We’re working pretty hard to get the trees out of those roads and have been for several weeks,” he said. “We lost a fair amount of work time, we’ll just prioritize what we need to do and work it from there.”

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