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From gridlock to padlock: agencies shut doors

SoVaNow.com / October 03, 2013
With the federal government in shutdown mode and Washington in turmoil, many in Southside Virginia — from farmers to anglers, low-income families to local governments — may soon feel the effects.

Most federal agencies either have closed or are in the midst of implementing their shutdown plans in the wake of Congress’s failure this week to pass a continuing budget resolution to keep the government operating.

The first to be furloughed will be 800,000 federal workers nationwide whose jobs are deemed not “critical,” or who are not involved in implementing agency shutdown plans.

In the Town of Halifax, the budget impasse has idled the Farm Services Agency, a branch of the USDA. The FSA locked its doors around noon Tuesday after Congress failed to agree on the budget by the deadline of Monday at midnight. The FSA’s website is down, with a note to visitors saying operations will resume once funding is restored.

The FSA administers various commodity, credit and land use programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which issues checks to farmers to hold their land out of production to protect habitat. Because fall comes late in the season, the closing of FSA has had minimal impact on local growers — for now.

But J.T. Davis, a Nathalie-area farmer, crop insurance agent and county supervisor, said yesterday that farmers are not happy with the news out of Washington, both with the shutdown and the ongoing inability of Congress to pass the Farm Bill.

“If you want to sum it up in one word, it would be ‘frustration,’” said Davis. “If you wanted to sum it in two words, it’s ‘total frustration.’”

Davis said there are all kinds of potential impacts that could result from an ongoing deadlock on the Farm Bill, such as the interruption of the milk program, without which “you could see grocery prices skyrocket,” he said. The Farm Bill has languished in Congress as House Republicans insist on cutting $40 billion out of the food stamp program over 10 years, a demand that Senate Democrats reject. The food stamp program is a traditional part of the Farm Bill, although the House wants to split it off from other programs that more directly affect producers.

The government shutdown is a product of a similar dispute between House Republicans who want to overturn the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and the Democratic-led Senate and White House, which have rejected any effort to end or delay the health care reform law, enacted three years ago and later upheld by the Supreme Court.

Davis said farmers are hardly alone in their dismay over Washington’s inability to conduct business, whether it’s passing legislation or keeping agencies open.

“I think the overall American citizen is just tired of this gridlock and things not getting done,” he said. “It’s a lot of dysfunction that’s going to have an effect on everybody.”

In South Boston, employees with the Tri-County Community Action Agency are watching and waiting to see how long the government shutdown lasts. The agency’s executive director, the Rev. William Coleman, said Community Action has resources available to maintain its programs for another month or so. But because the agency largely runs off of reimbursements from the federal government for services ranging from weatherization to Head Start, it would be hard-hit if the shutdown drags out beyond a few weeks.

“We’re talking less than 30 days, our entire operation could vanish. We couldn’t go on without some effort by our legislators to come to a resolution,” he said.

Coleman added that Community Action already has been forced to lay off staff and turn down children for the Head Start program due to the impact of the budget sequester, which arose out of a previous budget dispute between Congress and the White House.

“We’re kind of holding our breath already,” he said. “Our funds have been reduced dramatically through sequestration …. We’re trying to keep things going because the need is there. We’ve got 26 percent of our children living in poverty.”

In addition to Head Start, emergency energy assistance and housing and weatherization program, Tri-County Community Action Agency also



Ann Johnson, Chief of Public Affairs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District — operators of John H. Kerr Dam and power station and a number of facilities around Buggs Island Lake — said the Corps has enough money to fund operations through Saturday, October 4. Since most employees do not work on weekends, however, the agency effectively will begin its shutdown plan Friday evening.

The impact: Campers will be forced to leave Corps campgrounds regardless of the duration of their reservation. Boat ramps will be shuttered, and all but ten USACE workers in Mecklenburg County will be furloughed. The ten lucky enough to keep their job during the shutdown are responsible for operations at the dam and power plant — including eight employees, the reservoir manager, and the natural resources manager.

Campers still at the parks on Friday will have until 8:00 p.m. Saturday to vacate the grounds. Those whose reservations continue past Saturday are entitled to a refund, said Johnson, which can be obtained by calling the USACE reservations toll free number at 1-888-448-1474. Most likely though, that phone line will ring unanswered during the shutdown since the person tasked with handling reservations is on furlough.

Johnson said closing the boat ramps is proving “a bit trickier.” Still, the current plan is to padlock these facilities at the end of the day on Friday. On a positive note, if there is one, Bobbie Whitlow at Bobcat’s Lake Country Tackle Unlimited said as far as he knew, “there are no fishing tournaments [scheduled on the lake] for the next week or two.”

Campgrounds and boat ramp sites set to close on Friday include North Bend Park, Tailrace Park, Palmer Point, Ivy Hill Park, Island Creek Park, Grassy Creek Park, Longwood Park, Buffalo Park, Staunton View Park, Bluestone boat ramp, Rudd’s Creek, Eagle Point boat ramp and Eastland Creek boat ramp.

Other local USACE facilities closing on Friday are the USACE Visitor Assistance Center, Tanner Environmental Education Center, Liberty Hill fishing access and trail, and Buffalo Springs.

Johnson said several parks, marinas and boat ramps operated either by a state agency or local proprietors will be unaffected by the shutdown. These include: Steele Creek Marina, Hibernia Park, Henderson Point Park, Clarksville Marina, the Clover boat ramp at the Staunton (Roanoke) River, Kimball Point Park, Bullocksville Park, County Line Park, Satterwhite Point Park and J.C. Cooper Campground, Satterwhite Point Marina, Williamsboro Wayside fishing access, Flemington Road landing, Nutbush Creek Park, Staunton River State Park, Occoneechee State Park, Hyco boat ramp and Willow Grove Marina.

Others affected: Women with infants and children enrolled in the WIC program will have to forego this support while the shutdown drags on due to a lack of funds, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the government office overseeing the shutdown. This program, also known the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, mothers and their children.

School lunches and breakfasts will continue to be served. Because these programs are paid from Title 1 monies (federal dollars used to fund programs for minority and economically disadvantaged students), schools may be left waiting for reimbursement.

Food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will continue untouched for now. However, earlier this week SNAP notified local recipients that it expects some funding to run out as of the beginning of November resulting in reduced payments to program participants.

Those receiving Social Security and Medicare payments should see their payments continue as scheduled.

Tax filers facing an October 15 filing deadline must still file their returns by that date even though most IRS workers are furloughed. But, don’t expect to have filing questions answered or online submissions acknowledged. The IRS, as part of its shutdown, will is shutting down its “help desk.”

Local farmers using the services of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will have to wait until after the shutdown to learn if they qualify for a microloan or to receive disaster relief payments. All existing classes, meetings, lectures, most often accessed by new, small or minority farmers are canceled. In fact, the local office is closing its doors for the duration of the shutdown since none of the local employees are involved in work deemed critical for that agency.

The only FSA workers excepted from the furlough are those involved with emergency and natural disasters response, and emergency and defense preparedness.

Even local governments will feel the sting of this shutdown. The US Department of Agriculture, which oversees community development block grant (CDBG) monies and rural development loans, says to expect delays in payments and urges communities not to make any draw-down on approved funds for ongoing projects. In Chase City, the Third Street project as well as the Chase City sewer improvement project are being paid for with USDA monies.

Both Town Manager Ricky Reese and County Administrator Wayne Carter (Mecklenburg currently has one approved project relying on CDBG monies, the Tiny Road project) are awaiting official word from the state as to when they can expect funding to be restored.

Mail service will continue without interruption since the United States Postal Services is considered an independent agency. And all Veterans Administration medical facilities will remain open for inpatient and outpatient care. However, benefits programs overseen by the VA will probably be affected, but to what extent was unclear at press time.

As of now, there is no end in sight for the shutdown. In a statement released by Congressman Robert Hurt (VA-5) just before the shutdown, he said, “It is my hope that we will be able to find agreement in avoiding a shutdown, and we will continue to work in good-faith to achieve that end.” On Tuesday morning however, Caroline Califf, the Congressman’s press contact, said the office had no word on when or if the stalemate would end.



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Comments

Now if congress and president would not pay these non-essential federal workers for the couple of weeks they are out. It might make a dent in the deficit. If they can't make a little sacarafice, and live for two weeks or so then they did not prepare. Teachers in the state went five years with out a raise, while federal workers got raises. Thanks Congressman Hurt for taking a stand.

Comments

"you could see grocery prices skyrocket" If the crooked bastards in Washington D.C. were not forcing taxpayers to pay "farmers" not to farm then why would food prices skyrocket? How many hundreds of acres or even thousands of acres of farmland do those crooked politicians own? CRP doesn't mean squat for small farmers but what if you are a politician with thousands of acres?

Comments

“I think the overall American citizen is just tired of this gridlock and things not getting done" J.T. Davis you are wrong! I would say it is precisely what they do and have done that the overall American citizen is sick and tired of. What do you think they do other than spend money? So please save that same old tired bs that we just need them to get along. When they are getting along they spend like hell which might have something to do with the shape this country is in.

Comments

This is who spends our money and writes our laws? http://www.dailypaul.com/301312/entire-house-of-reps-gives-standing-ovation-to-murder-of-mother Capital police shoot and kill an unarmed mother suffering from depression with her 1 year old in the vehicle as they load the car with bullets and congress gives the police a standing ovation. Human filth.


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