Government shutdown… What does it mean locally?
By JOHN RISHEL
LOCK HAVEN — As you may know, key parts of the US government shut down more than a month ago as politicians hit an impasse over President Donald Trump’s request of $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the southern border.
The shutdown, already the longest in history, affects more than 800,000 federal workers in nine different departments, as well as several federal agencies. This includes the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury.
Federal workers deemed “essential” are required to work without pay. Others are furloughed, or placed on temporary leave.
What does it mean for local government?
Clinton County commissioner Robert “Pete” Smeltz reports “little to no adverse effects” on county government from the partial shutdown of the federal government.
“We are not currently getting federal funding. Most of the federal funding we receive goes to the county prison,” he said.
Smeltz notes that $267,828.85 is currently owed to the county by Homeland Security and $41,837.86 is owed to the county by the U.S. Marshals for the months of November and December, 2018.
Smeltz says that one of the things they are watching, as far as the impact of the shutdown, is when and how the county will receive voting machine funding to meet the equipment upgrade mandate outlined by Pa. Governor Tom Wolf.
“When will that funding be granted? Will it be a one time payment? Spread out over a number of years? We do not know and we cannot stop what we are doing to wait and see,” he said.
It was noted that Children and Youth Services receives some federal funding, but it falls on a different time schedule and the shutdown is not expected to have any adverse effects on their ability to run their existing programs.
“We can typically eat two or three months of funding and it won’t have an impact,” Smeltz said. “Often it is a case of the state having cash flow issues, not the county. There have been times even without a shutdown when these payments have lagged behind. That is nothing new for us. We have not been adversely impacted by the shutdown.”
Beyond county government, what may be affected?
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has stopped many of its services, but officials have said the agency would continue issuing tax refunds.
Medicare and Social Security payments will continue to be issued, but newly eligible applications will be delayed.
Immigration courts have also been affected, worsening an already existing backlog, which includes more than 800,000 cases, according to reports.
Citizens who receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may have their assistance disrupted in March.
Officials from The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have said SNAP beneficiaries will continue to receive assistance through February, but provided no promises if the shutdown continued into March.
“Most other domestic nutrition assistance programs, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, WIC, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, can continue to operate at the state and local level with any funding and commodity resources that remain available. Additional Federal funds will not be provided during the period of the lapse, however, deliveries of already-purchased commodities will continue,” USDA said on Dec. 28.
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program offices are still open, and mothers and children will continue to have access to nutritious food during the federal government shutdown, according to Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
“While we are hopeful that the federal government will quickly end the shutdown, we must make sure that mothers, infants and children have access to nutritious food,” Levine said. “WIC programs across the commonwealth are funded and remain open at least through February. Programs like WIC are essential to providing families healthy food options, and the Wolf Administration is committed to ensuring these programs continue.”
More than 205,000 pregnant women, mothers and children are enrolled in WIC statewide.
Dr. Levine visited the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank with U.S. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) as the food bank supports federal workers who are no longer being paid. Funding from WIC comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is shut down as part of the federal budget impasse.
“It is essential that our leaders in Washington work to resolve this impasse, as the impacts will be felt far and wide throughout this country the longer it continues,” Dr. Levine said. “WIC is funded through February, but we don’t know what will happen after that. We cannot let mothers, infants and children to go hungry while Washington sorts out their issues.”
The ongoing shutdown has also stopped most food safety inspections, reports the Food and Drug Administration.
This means FDA inspectors are not looking for salmonella in breakfast cereal, E. coli in romaine lettuce, or listeria in ice cream. Companies can still make their own checks, of course, and the FDA is still announcing those recalls.
Foreign food inspections are continuing, but the FDA has virtually stopped inspecting domestic food production facilities, which could mean threats to the public are going undetected.
“We’re doing everything we can to try to maintain our basic consumer protection role. That’s our focus,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has said.
Schools across the country are bracing themselves for the “potentially devastating repercussions” that the shutdown could have on lunch assistance programs.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLC), a federally funded initiative that provides more than 30 million at-need youth with nutritious meals, could be at risk.
This concern comes as USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted Friday that “child nutrition programs are funded quarterly and are fully funded through the end of March,” though it is unclear what would happen if the shutdown goes past that point.
Airline industry facing level of risk
Thomas O’Connor of the FBI Agents Association said in a statement: “The resources available to support the work of FBI agents are currently stretched to the breaking point and are dwindling day by day.”
Due to the shutdown, the airline industry is facing a level of risk ‘we cannot even calculate’ because of the shutdown, unions representing air traffic controllers, flight attendants and pilots said in a statement.
“In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break. It is unprecedented,” the statement read.
Government shutdown could also put rental assistance programs in jeopardy, and reports suggest Federal courts will run out of money in February.
Some employees at federal courts will have to start working without pay Feb. 1, if the partial government shutdown continues.
Once the courts’ money runs out, including stretching fees and other “no-year” funds, each court will be responsible for determining which staffers will have to work without pay in supporting “mission critical work,” according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in a Tuesday statement.
Meanwhile, thousands of federal workers affected by the shutdown have expressed anxiety over not receiving their pay. Some have quit their jobs and taken other employment.
Unions representing workers have led protests throughout the country, demanding an end to the shutdown.