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Federal shutdown has local impacts

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Catherine W. Idzerda , Frank Schultz and Jim Leute
October 1, 2013

The federal government touches local lives in myriad ways, so a shutdown will have a local impact.

However, no severe impacts have been identified as yet in Rock and Walworth counties, although a long shutdown could change that picture.

And “severe impact” depends on who you are. If you're a civilian employee of the Wisconsin National Guard, for example, you could be laid off without pay, or “furloughed,” for the duration.

Wisconsin is insulated from some of the shutdown's effects because relatively few federal employees work in the state. Wisconsin ranks last in wages paid to federal employees.

Following is a rundown of what The Gazette has been able to find out.

National Guard

Members of the Wisconsin National Guard will continue to report for duty, and the Guard plans to continue essential functions, including readiness to respond to emergencies, according to a memo published Monday night.

However, the Guard furloughed 840 non-essential technicians Tuesday. Most of these civilians work at Fort McCoy between Sparta and Tomah or at Volk Field near Camp Douglas. Some others work at Air National Guard bases in Madison and Milwaukee.

Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Rickert said 210 employees who work in fire and rescue, protective service and key maintenance jobs were exempted from furloughs.
Those 210 workers will be paid retroactively, while those on furlough will not unless Congress allows for that.

 Rickert said the Guard received authorization to keep military honors personnel on duty to ensure no interruption in services performed at military funerals this week. The Guard hasn't changed any weekend drill dates, but soldiers currently attending certain Army schools might be sent home, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

UW-Whitewater

“As far as we can tell, normal campus operations, including student financial aid, should not be affected,” UW-W spokesman Jeff Angileri said in an e-mail.

However, faculty members applying for federally funded grants—from the Small Business Administration or Department of Agriculture, for example—could have problems because of furloughs for employees who oversee those processes.

“At this point, we can expect delays in the submission process, the review of grant proposals and the granting of funds. The full scope is unknown,” Angileri said.

Education Week reports that Pell Grants and Federal Direct Student loans will continue to make payments during the shutdown.

UW-Rock County

UW-Rock Dean Carmen Wilson said federal student aid for this semester won't be affected, but a long shutdown could affect the spring semester.

“In the short term, things will be fine. Everything will be paid out or has been,” Wilson said. “If it continues for a significant period of time, then we could see some challenges.”

Federal student aid for the spring semester will be processed later this fall, so if the shutdown is still in effect in December, aid payments could be delayed, Wilson said.

The federal TRIO program, which provides support to at-risk students, already has been funded for the year, so no impact is expected.

Head Start

The Head Start program, which provides pre-school education to 461 children in Rock and Walworth counties, will continue to operate, at least for now.

The program should continue to receive its federal funding through January, when its grant runs out, said Connie Robers, executive director of Rock-Walworth Comprehensive Family Services.

“For now, we think we're OK, but I don't want to speculate over the long term. I don't know how that would work over the long term,” Robers said.

Robers said she won't be able to consult the national or regional Head Start offices for guidance, however, because those offices are closed for the shutdown.

The local Head Start program is smaller than it was last school year because of sequestration budget cuts, Robers noted. Last year, Head Start served 510 children.

Veterans hospitals

“All VA medical centers and clinics will remain fully operational and will continue to provide health care services to our nation's veterans. … VA health care appointments will not be affected,” says a statement posted on the website of the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison.

County-level veterans services offices

Carla Vigue, communications officers for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs said she was “not aware of” any county office closures. 

The federal government's veterans administration website, va.gov, is still running and has a “Veterans Field Guide” to the federal government shutdown on its main page.  The guide lists which services will be available and which will shut down. The Veterans Administration regional office in Milwaukee will be closed, and a number of other services will be run on a limited basis.

Public schools

Local schools should see little immediate impact.

The Department of Education is expected to furlough more than 90 percent of its employees this week, but funding for local Title 1, special education and career and technical education grants would continue into the first week of October, according to a department memo.

A shutdown lasting longer than one week would be difficult:

“A protracted delay in department obligations and payments beyond one week would severely curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities, and vocational rehabilitation agencies that depend on the department to support their services,” the memo states.

Ice Age Trail

The National Park Service's Volunteers-In-Parks program has been suspended, so the Ice Age Trail Alliance is shutting down its volunteer programs.

Volunteers-In-Parks provides medical and liability coverage to those volunteering for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which the alliance considers essential. The trail includes parts of Rock and Walworth counties.

The alliance announced Tuesday it is halting trail-building and maintenance, volunteer-led group hikes and other functions involving volunteers until further notice.

Social Security

While Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments will continue with no change in payment dates, the Social Security office on Academy Street in Janesville is open with limited services.

Staff is available to help with:

-- Benefit applications.

-- Appeal requests.

-- Changes of address or direct deposit information.

-- Death reports.

-- Citizenship status.

-- Replacement of a lost or missing payment.

-- Issuance of a critical payment.

-- Changes in representative payees.

-- Processing of changes in living arrangements or income, for SSI recipients only.

During the shutdown, the office is not issuing new or replacement Social Security cards, replacing Medicare cards or issuing proof of income letters.

During the shutdown, the agency won't have enough staff to schedule new hearings for those applying for disability benefits. And the Veterans Appeal Board will be closed, which means veterans appealing decisions on disability benefits will have to wait until the shutdown ends.

Rock County Job Center

All services are open and available, said Bob Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, which operates the center in Janesville.

“We should be OK to provide services, and people should just come on in,” Borremans said.

People enrolled in specific adult and dislocated worker programs should be able to continue their training, but the program cannot add new expenses through enrollments, Borremans said, adding that the job center would contact affected people.

If the shutdown lasts more than two or three weeks, Borremans said, case managers likely would be furloughed.

“But we're not to that point yet,” he said.

Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport

Earlier this year, it was announced that the airport tower in Janesville would be closed due to the federal budget sequestration. In late April, Congress passed a bill to allow the Federal Aviation Commission to restore funding through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Earl Arrowood, manager of airport tower in Janesville, said he recently received notice that funding for the tower was extended through the end of October.

The current government shutdown would not effect the tower because air traffic controllers are considered “essential services,” Arrowood said.

Local offices of the United States Department of Agriculture

The Farm Service Agency and National Resources Conservation Services offices on Highway 14 are closed, said Tom Sweeney, Rock County land conservationist.

The county's land conservation department is located in the same building as the USDA offices, and the organizations often work together.

Conservation reserve payments usually go out shortly after Oct. 1 but will not do so until the offices reopen, Sweeney said.

The conservation reserve program takes marginal farmland and transforms it into buffer strips, windbreaks or wildlife cover.  The program helps reduce soil erosion, improves water quality and adds to wildlife habitat.

Farmers receive stipends and enter cost sharing agreements to cover their costs.

In addition, the county's land conservation office no longer has access to shared equipment such as survey-grade GPS, Sweeney said.

Some of the county staff also use federal computer services for federal conservation plans.

The national USDA website is not available.

UW Extension Nutrition Education Program

The program, which is funded with federal dollars, works with low-income and at risk families throughout the state.  The local office is in Beloit.

“At present, we have been urged by the Department of Health Services to continue our education programs, at least for the near future,” Laurie Boyce, state program director, said in an e-mail.

An interim plan will keep the program going for at least three months, Boyce said.

Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program

The program helps pregnant women and new mothers buy nutritional food. The USDA said many programs have funding to continue for a short period, according to an Associated Press report.

Congressional offices

The Janesville constituent service office of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-1st District, remains open. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-2nd District, also said he is keeping his offices open.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., closed her offices, citing the shutdown as the reason. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., reportedly is keeping his offices open with a skeleton staff.

The difference appears to be an interpretation of the rules by different members of Congress. Congress members could either furlough an employee or deem the employee “essential,” so the employee is required to work.

Furloughed staff members are barred by law from volunteering their time.

Those who work during the shutdown are not paid, according to the rules. Congress in the past has passed legislation to pay congressional employees retroactively after shutdowns, but such pay is not guaranteed.

The Constitution requires that members of Congress be paid during the shutdown. Ryan is donating his pay during the shutdown to charity.



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