Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 11, 2013

Government shutdown: Impact felt throughout region

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — As the partial federal government shutdown continues, the impact of the political gridlock in Washington is slowly being felt by everyday citizens, including folks right here in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

For example, employees at the Federal Correctional Institute McDowell, or FCI McDowell, have been working without a paycheck. You can’t shut a federal prison down after all, or send correctional officers home. Travel plans by area residents to parks and other national attractions have had to be canceled.

Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors have been furloughed as miners continue to labor deep underground. As a result, the federal inspectors are off the job and prevented from conducting the regular inspections that make sure coal companies are operating their mines as safely as possible.

Mountain State lawmakers like U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are concerned about the mine inspectors being off the job, and rightfully so. For the first time since 2002, the coal mining industry had three deaths in three days — one each in West Virginia, Illinois and Wyoming. And these deaths came while regular mine safety inspections were on hold as a result of the partial federal government shutdown.

Also of particular concern is the impact of the government shutdown on West Virginia and Virginia National Guard personnel, and their readiness to respond to disasters in the region.

But in one sign of hopeful news for the region, some West Virginia National Guard personnel are being called from unpaid furloughs for the remainder of the federal government shutdown, according to U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

Rahall recently led a bipartisan coalition of 88 House members, who called on the Secretary of Defense to provide pay and grant non-furloughed status to all categories of Guard and Reserve members.

“Having urged the Secretary of Defense to broadly interpret the law to ensure the continuation of pay for the members of the National Guard and Reserve, I am glad to see that many of West Virginia’s full-time National Guard employees are going back to work,” Rahall said. “The men and women of the National Guard provide invaluable services to our state and nation and they certainly should not be punished for the current political standoff in Congress.

We agree. The Local guardsmen played a critical role in helping our region to recover from the great floods of 2001 and 2002. They are an important part of our community, and must be ready to respond when disaster strikes.

Unfortunately, the longer this government shutdown drags on, the greater the impact will be upon our region and the nation.