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Government shutdown impacts Uinta County

Posted: Thursday, Oct 3rd, 2013

Tuesday’s shutdown of the Federal government has put close to a million federal workers on furlough, but here in Uinta County, needy women and children may soon be without the help of the WIC program and the school lunch program may also be in danger if politicians in Washington can’t come to an agreement soon on a new spending bill.

EVANSTON — Up to a million federal workers are now temporarily out of work. And though Evanston isn’t overflowing with federal workers, the government shutdown has a real effect on Wyoming and Uinta County.

The shutdown is only partial at this point and many agencies continue to operate or operate with only enough personnel to deal with emergencies while the nation waits to see how long the Washington gridlock will last.

Wyoming has approximately 6,000 federal civilian workers and those not considered essential were furloughed as of October 1.

Some workers were to report to work to conclude specific tasks before being furloughed. A furlough is the placing of an employee in a temporary non-duty, non-pay status due to lack of work or lack of funds, as in this case.

Since Congress hasn’t approved a spending bill for the new fiscal year that began Tuesday, the feds aren’t legally allowed to spend money.

One particular federal program that will be hit hard if the shutdown continues is the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program.

“There is concern with that program,” Public Information Officer for the Wyoming Department of Health Kim Deti told the Herald Tuesday. “We have resources available to continue benefits and services for the next couple of weeks. Beyond that, we can’t say at this point.”

WIC is the service that aids low-income women and children and like many programs affected by the partial shutdown, will impact those least able to deal with the situation.

“Our biggest program is Medicaid, and that’s continuing,” Deti said. “That’s not affected. We’re kind of reviewing other programs to see what else is affected … sometimes with government funding it gets complicated.”

The federal school lunch program may also be hit hard, but only if the shutdown lasts several weeks, according to Wyoming State Director for Child Nutrition Tamra Jackson.

“We are fine with all our programs. The only issue is if the government was shut down for like six weeks, two months,” she said. “Then the USDA and the government would have to sit down and look at what they’re going to pay and what they’re not going to pay.”

Many federal agencies have just shut down for the time being.

The Wyoming BLM Facebook page had a simple message for those trying to find out what was happening. The site is still up but the last post stated, “As a result of the government shutdown, we will not be actively using this account or replying to comments, except in the event of a major emergency.”

Though the BLM did not respond to questions about how many workers would be affected in Wyoming, it should be noted that their contingency plan calls for furloughing 10,200 employees out of a total of 10,800 – nearly 95 percent of its force.

The USDA Web site went a step further and simply shut down, stating the cause as a lack of federal government funding. The U. S. Forest Service is a part of the USDA and seemed prepared for the shutdown, posting a Contingency Plan for Agency Close Down Procedures on Sept. 20, well ahead of the actual shutdown.

That contingency plan states, “This plan assumes that all funding for continuing operations beginning on the first day of an appropriations hiatus would come from discretionary prior year unobligated fund balances.”

Yellowstone National Park gave campers and visitors 48 hours to pack up and leave and only emergency personnel were to stay on duty.

“The closure of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and other national parks and sites in Wyoming will be felt by hotels, restaurants and other businesses across the state,” Executive Director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association Chris Brown said. “That’s because a lot of folks who are traveling drive all the way, so it would affect gas stations, convenience stores and retailers all over.”

The shutdown comes just before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the federally mandated new healthcare program that has been a source of much contention in Congress and all of Washington, D. C.

“Make no mistake: shutting down the government in a last-ditch attempt to derail health care reform is a reckless act,” LeeAnn Hall, Executive Director for the Alliance for a Just Society, stated in a press release. The Alliance for a Just Society is one of the prominent supporters of the Affordable Care Act.

“It will harm basic services in local communities, hurt the economy, and undermine job growth. But it won’t stop the promise of quality, affordable health care that is now the law of the land. That promise will not be repealed, delayed, or shut down,” Hall said.

The Affordable Care Act is not a part of the government shutdown and will continue to be implemented even as thousands of federal employees are furloughed and many services are closed.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region Facilities office issued a press release from its Lakewood, Colo. office stating, “The Federal Government will be closed as current funding expired on September 30. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is very much aware that any lapse in appropriations imposes hardships on those we serve.”

The release went on to state that national wildlife refuges, waterfowl production areas, fish hatcheries and fish and wildlife conservation offices would be closed to the public.

“While a lapse in appropriations remains in effect, public access to Service properties will be prohibited and fish and wildlife management activities and public programs will be cancelled,” the release stated. “This includes all public recreation, including hunting activities on national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas.”

The federal fiscal year ended on September 30, requiring Congress to agree on a way to keep funding it and also to increase the federal debt ceiling before it is reached in mid-October. Until a compromise can be reached, the government will remain shut down.

Many functions of the government and its various departments will continue to operate. Social Security payments will continue to be paid, postal delivery will continue, Veterans hospitals and clinics are already funded so they will continue to operate.

Schools will continue to run as the state has appropriated the funds for those, though all monies may not have been received and there may be delays with some of those funds. Police and fire departments and other emergency services within Wyoming and Uinta County will continue to operate.

As of press time, there is still no answer to how long the federal government shutdown will last or what political compromises will have to be reached before the government returns to normal operations.

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