Government shutdown's effects felt locally

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Outdoor enthusiast Dan Buchmann, of St. Louis, walks the Two Pecans Trail at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, Mo., Tuesday Oct. 1, 2013 which will be closed, along with all trails at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-run facilities in the St. Louis District, until further notice due to the federal government shutdown. (AP Photo/The Telegraph, Margie M. Barnes)

Across the region Tuesday, many federal government offices that are normally open might as well have posted signs on the door that said "Be back in?" as a partial shutdown closed some or scaled back operations at others.

Congress' failure to reach a deal on funding federal agencies by midnight Monday meant visitors were left unable to visit national parks and monuments, and some agriculture services and Social Security offices ran on less than half of their normal staff because employees were furloughed. Continued funding for other federal programs and services also was questionable.

Brink Naile, a program technician who works in the U.S. Department of Agriculture field office in Mississippi County, was one of the thousands of federal employees placed on a furlough Tuesday. Naile said he felt lucky to have saved money in the past few years, especially since he recently bought a home.

"For me, this probably couldn't come at a worse time," Naile said. "But it's one of those things. I just look at it as a pay cut for a while, and try not to take it personally."

Without Naile in the office, it was likely that farm-loan payments and applications would not be processed as usual, and other services there would not be available, he said.

USDA's Rural Development said it will cease processing loans and grants, and the Federal Housing Administration will stop processing some loans.

Elsewhere in the region, calls to supervisors' offices for the Mark Twain National Forest in Southeast and Southern Missouri and the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois went unanswered. Answering machines at the offices cited the government shutdown as the reason, said employees were furloughed and that services would be restored when funding became available.

A similar message was presented when calling the local Social Security offices in Cape Girardeau. Obtaining a Social Security card was not possible Tuesday, as card centers were closed. Other facilities were open for limited services only.

Furloughs also affected the offices of some congressional decision-makers, such as Sen. Claire McCaskill and Rep. Jason Smith. McCaskill, a Democrat, posted on social media that "most" of her staff was furloughed -- six remained working. Smith's spokesman, Justin Gibbs, said Monday that nine people, which made up half of the Republican congressman's staff, were furloughed. Smith's offices in West Plains, Mo., and Poplar Bluff, Mo., were closed, but Gibbs said calls to those offices would be answered by staff elsewhere.

Smith also on Tuesday sent a letter to the House of Representatives' chief administrative officer, asking his pay to be withheld during the shutdown, according to a news release, and urged other members of Congress to follow suit.

"It's just not fair for me or any other member of Congress to receive special treatment," Smith said in a statement.

Smith has sided with Republicans who want to stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That opposition is linked to the partial government shutdown.

Other federally funded activities in Southeast Missouri that aren't seeing effects of the shutdown but could if it continues include the federal court system, an education program and one that provides food for women and young children.

Lori Miller Young, chief deputy clerk for the Eastern District of Missouri U.S. District Court, said the federal courthouses will remain open during the shutdown.

"We can remain open probably a good two weeks," Miller Young said.

If the shutdown continues beyond that, nonessential employees could be furloughed, but courthouses would stay open, she said.

An announcement on the court's website said the federal judiciary will reassess the situation after Oct. 15.

Jane Wernsman, director of the Cape Girardeau Public Health Center -- where the WIC, or Women, Infants, and Children, program is based -- said the center received word by email from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that there were no issues at the moment that should interfere with the program because of the shutdown.

But te email said that situation could change if the lapse in appropriations for federal programs goes beyond the short term.

Staff writer Emily Priddy contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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