Sign of the times
Federal government shutdown has local effects
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 7:56 AM
At the Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in Caledonia, a message has been taped to the door since the federal government shut down on Oct. 1 - "currently closed."
The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is just one governmental agency that has laid off staff, and Houston County is not immune from the effects. Besides five employees at FSA, two more full-time staff members and one shared employee at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office next door are not at their posts. That's because NRCS is also a part of the USDA.
"We haven't been affected so far," Houston County Veteran Services Officer Rob Gross reported last week, "but it all depends of how long this goes on. As it goes forward, the programs and resources we use could be affected."
Gross noted that most of the programs that his clients depend on are "front loaded," so they'll continue to be available, at least for a while.
"VA medical centers, clinics and other health services have advance appropriations for 2014 and will remain open." according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. However, claims processing and payments for various programs (compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation) are only funded through late October.
"The main area that we will see some impact on is our WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program," Deb Rock said. As Public Health/Nursing Director for the county, Rock said she has been keeping up on recent developments.
"Currently we are operating as usual," Rock said, "and we will continue to do that through the month of October, but we'll have to see how long the shutdown lasts.
"We may have to make some adjustments, although we get most of our directives from the state. We're just waiting to hear from them. We had a conference call on Monday (Oct. 7) and they are saying that we should continue (as normal) until we hear differently."
Public Health also administers a local emergency preparedness program that depends on federal funding, Rock added. Fortunately, that allocation has already been made, so the program can continue.
Human Services Director Linda Bahr reported similar concerns as federal resources go unfunded. "The State of Minnesota has quite a few federal employees," she added, "and they're talking about laying some of them off because the funding to keep them is going to dwindle if this continues.
"Our funding comes in different ways. Some programs pay the counties ahead of time, and some (reimbursement) only comes after we spend it... I have a feeling that they're going to hit more of the preventative things than they hit necessities."
"When something happens, we have to roll with the punches. When something happens we have to react, but I don't see that it's affecting us yet.
Even governmental web pages are shut down, but some agencies, such as the National Weather Service in La Crosse, are keeping just enough staff at work to maintain certain sites. Forecasts are one of those, since they provide information that "is necessary to protect life and property.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter has reported that at least 3,000 state employees' positions depend on federal monies. That includes more than 100 Minnesota Department of Health employees who were told on Monday, Oct. 7, that they could be laid off if the federal government doesn't restore funding.