Noticable effects won’t be felt here for some time
By TIMES OBSERVER STAFF
Welcome to the world of not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow.
The United States government shut down Tuesday.
There are many local agencies that receive federal dollars, but residents who don’t work for the federal government shouldn’t notice much difference for at least a week or two.
Attempts to contact the local Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program, were redirected to a regional office which directed requests to the state office. Phones at the state office were not answered and messages were not returned.
According to USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Division shutdown contingency plan, “no additional federal funds would be available to support… WIC’s clinical services… States may have some funds available… to continue operations for a week or so. Contingency funds will be available to help states, but even this funding would not fully mitigate a shortfall for the entire month of October.”
Commodity Assistance Programs will not receive additional funds.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will continue and eligible households will receive monthly benefits for October. The SNAP contingency is funded through the end of 2014.
Child Nutrition Programs will also continue operations into October. Carryover funding could help pull those programs through October if necessary.
“At this point we haven’t had any impact,” said Robert Raible, executive director of the Warren and Forest Counties Economic Opportunity Council. “A lot of our grants are still using federal fiscal year 2013 money.”
Those funds are appropriated under last year’s federal budget and Raible said, “We won’t start really feeling anything until December or January.”
Several contracts are ending and are to be renewed under the 2014 budget leaving funding for the agency and programs such as the Faith Inn in jeopardy. The effect on other agency programs such as Head Start, the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program and the agencies weatherization program are not yet known.
The Head Start program just began a new contract on July 1 with 90 percent of the program’s funds already appropriated and the weatherization program funding depends on if it is classified as essential or non-essential.
“It depends on what happens, the length and what happens when they do finally have a budget for fiscal year 2014,” Raible said.
Forest-Warren Human Services funding is locked in.
“At this time, our programs are not affected,” Director Mary Kushner said. “Our federal funding goes to the state then is passed onto us.”
According to the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation web portal, the federal shutdown will not affect payment of regular Unemployment Compensation, Emergency Unemployment Compensation or Trade Readjustment Allowances benefits.
Federal employees who are furloughed may be eligible for unemployment benefits and should be prepared to provide pay stubs back to April 2012 at the time they apply.
Allegheny National Forest
The Allegheny National Forest is down to a skeleton crew.
Fire suppression and law enforcement, including equipment to protect life and property, are considered essential services, and therefore are exempted from close-down procedures, according to a U.S. Forest Service memorandum.
Also, personnel necessary to execute the close-down are temporarily exempted, according to the memo. The Forest Service estimates that it will take seven days to complete an orderly close-down.
A recording for phone calls to the ANF says, “Hello, you have reached the Allegheny National Forest. We are on furlough, due to the lack of government funding.”
Attempts to reach an operator resulted in more recordings stating hours for the headquarters, as well as the Bradford and Marienville ranger districts, with a request to leave a message.
The ANF office in North Warren was locked Tuesday afternoon and no lights were visible inside.
According to the Department of Defense, Kinzua Dam is an essential operation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is staffed. Attempts to reach Corps officials on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The Warren County Veterans Affairs office is open. It is a county office, but it handles federal paperwork.
“Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October,” director Ed Burris said, citing information provided by the VA. “In the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in those programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”
Burris said he has contacted U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania regarding that information. “My question to the senator’s office was, ‘Does that mean effective 1 November people won’t get their checks?'”
He had not received an answer to that question Monday afternoon.
“All VA medical facilities and clinics will remain fully operational,” Burris said.
Local military recruiters are on duty. Active duty military personnel will be paid during the shutdown.
Warren County Grants Administrator Lorri Dunlap is not aware of impacts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars she oversees.
“As far as I know, no impact,” she said.
The Warren County Housing Authority is in good position to withstand the shutdown.
“It depends on how long they’re shut down,” Executive Director Tonya Mitchell-Weston said. “If it’s a month, we’ll be hurting.”
She said the agency’s payments generally come due at the beginning of the month. “We skirted through for October,” she said.
After that, the authority would have to dip into reserve funding to pay rent for the Housing Choice Voucher Program. “It’s a small number and we have adequate reserves,” Mitchell-Weston said.
The lake trout residents of the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery will be fed, but the staff there is allowed to do little else.
In the event of a shutdown, “I am the only staff allowed to come to work… to feed the fish on station and check to make sure everything is running and is secure,” Project Manager Larry Miller said. “All other staff are not allowed to work or volunteer any time and will not receive any pay while on furlough.”