Shutdown brings uncertainty

Region will feel some effects
Oct. 02, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

With the federal government now in a partial shutdown, and hundreds of thousands of federal employees furloughed, certain effects will be felt in Central Carolina, while the region will avoid others.

There are no international borders, federal prisons or national parks, zoos, monuments or museums — workers at all of which are being affected by the shutdown that began Tuesday when the new federal fiscal year started without a spending plan from Congress — in Chatham, Harnett, Lee or Moore counties. However, there will still be some headaches.

Jordan Lake, a popular recreation site in Chatham County, is jointly operated by the state and by the federal government’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which created the lake. The state-run camping and recreation areas will likely remain open throughout the shutdown, according to R.C. Duckson, assistant operations manager with the Army Corps of Engineers at the lake. However, he said Tuesday, he expects his office at the dam — and therefore also the nearby boat ramp and fishing spot — to shut down sometime this week.

As with Jordan Lake, uncertainty abounded in many other areas that are part of the federal government or deal with it on a frequent basis.

There reportedly will be no changes to the U.S. Postal Service, and according to interim airport manager Greg Hudson, operations at the Raleigh Executive Jetport at Sanford-Lee County will also continue as normal. Social Security offices, on the other hand, will keep their normal hours but won’t offer the full complement of services. Until the shutdown is over, people won’t be able to get replacement Social Security or Medicaid cards or proof-of-income letters. More information is available at http://socialsecurity.gov/shutdown.

Active duty military personnel are still generally getting paid, but many civilian contractors aren’t, including about half of the 14,500 working at Fort Bragg, the base has reported. Veterans will be able to receive some benefits and services, including VHA medical care.

However, there will be no decisions on claims appeals or motions, internments at national cemeteries will be reduced, vocational rehabilitation and educational counseling will be limited and a number of other services and phone lines will be suspended altogether, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Claims processing and payments can continue through late October, the VA said, if the shutdown lasts that long. A full breakdown of what’s available and what isn’t is available at www.va.gov/opa/appropriations_lapse_plan.asp, although Lee County Veteran Services Officer John Sandrock said he would suggest any Lee County residents with questions contact him before trying to tackle all the information online.

“I always, always, 100 percent recommend they call me first,” Sandrock said. “I probably know the answers, and if I don’t, I at least am getting paid to know who to transfer them to.”

Sandrock can be reached from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at (919) 776-0501.

It’s unclear exactly how trickle-down from the stoppages will affect state, county or city operations, although at least one statewide newspaper reported that about 6,000 state employees could be furloughed. Public schools also receive federal funding for specific services — most notably for free or reduced-price meals and English as a second language programs — although the N.C. Department of Public Instruction sent schools a notice Monday saying nothing will change for at least the next two weeks.

One federal food program for low-income people that will be cut off is WIC, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. It provides about 9 million low-income mothers who are pregnant or have young children with a stipend each month to buy healthy food.

However, Lee County Health Director Terrell Jones — whose department administers WIC to approximately 2,100 families in Lee County — said although federal funding was cut off, the state has promised to fund the program through October. So as long as the shutdown ends this month, he said, there shouldn’t be any issues.

And no matter how long the shutdown lasts, Duckson said from his Jordan Lake office that he hopes people who are frustrated don’t take it out on government employees.

“We’re like the guy at the gas station,” Duckson said. “He doesn’t set the prices, but he’s the face that people see, and he gets yelled at if the price is bad.”