Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

WV State News

October 2, 2013

About 23,000 workers in W.Va. affected by federal shutdown

CHARLESTON — Most state agencies were not immediately affected by the first shutdown of the federal government in 17 years, West Virginia officials said Tuesday.

But state National Guard members, airport screeners and many of the roughly 23,000 federal employees who live in West Virginia weren't so lucky.

National legislators, embroiled in a partisan dispute over the Affordable Care Act, missed a deadline Monday night required to continue to fund the federal government. Negotiations continued Tuesday with the possibility for a funding solution at any time.

Federal lawmakers also approved a measure at the 11th hour Monday to pay many members of the military and civilian Defense Department employees.

That doesn't include the men and women of the National Guard though. Maj. Gen. James Hoyer had to send home 1,150 of the 2,339 employees required to be at work Tuesday without the shutdown.

"What can you say to those people?" Hoyer said Tuesday in a press conference, talking about idled employees.

"We ask these people to lead and to build relationships and compromise and work through situations. Those who are supposed to be protecting them, I would hope would be able to do the same thing."

Many Guard members are all too accustomed to days without pay: Hoyer said 980 of the men and women sent home are federal technicians who also received six furlough days in the past year.

National Guard members and others were forced to take unpaid leave as a part of massive federal spending cuts triggered through the so-called sequester.

Hoyer said the National Guard isn't officially telling its furloughed employees to pinch pennies yet. That might become a possibility if the situation persists, though.

Some of the National Guard's remaining employees are paid through a federal reimbursement system, Hoyer said. The state covers the cost for the employees with the expectation that the federal government will eventually pick up the tab.

That doesn't happen during a government shutdown.

"At some point, later in this week, if there's not a resolution to this, then we're going to have to look at sending an additional group of people home because we won't have the additional state dollars to float them longer than a certain period of time," he said.

That affects the 30 federally funded firefighters at Yeager Airport. The airport can't function without firefighters, Hoyer said.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper announced late Tuesday the commission would meet this afternoon to consider providing local funds for the firefighters.

Other agencies

The National Guard is not the only entity with funding through federal reimbursement.

Many of the 10 agencies under the Department of Commerce - the Division of Labor, the Office of Economic Opportunity, and others - are funded through a similar mechanism, said department spokeswoman Chelsea Ruby.

The daily activities of the department and its entities aren't affected at the moment, but that could change if the shutdown drags on, she said.

"I would say if it goes on for a week to two weeks, our agencies would start to see some of the trickle down effects," Ruby said.

There are other federal employees at Yeager Airport affected by the shutdown as well.

Airport Director Rick Atkinson said 10 to 15 local administrators with the Transportation Safety Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration were furloughed Monday. Many TSA and FAA employees - like security screeners or air-traffic controllers - were still on the job, Atkinson said.

The two agencies rent space at the airport, to the tune of almost $38,000 a month, Atkinson said. The agencies just paid their September rent, but if the shutdown runs into November that payment can't happen, Atkinson said.

The Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety could be in a bind if the shutdown lasts until next week.

The state's Division of Justice and Community Services oversees any federal grants provided to the department, spokesman Lawrence Messina said.

"It has been told that the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs has sufficient resources to remain operational through Friday," Messina said in an email.

"If the shutdown persists beyond that date, (the Office of Justice Programs) will shut down."

Federal funding for education is largely unaffected by a short government shutdown, said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

Although funding for some K-12 programs is discretionary, many of the programs already received their funding, Cordeiro said. That includes Title I funds and grants for special education or career and technical centers, according to a brief compiled by the Federal Funds Information for States, a public entity that tracks federal spending at the state level.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency turned off the lights on its operations Tuesday. That could potentially affect permitting by the state Department of Environmental Protection, spokesman Tom Aluise said.

The state Division of Mining and Reclamation is supposed to receive approval by the EPA before it signs off on a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for a mine, Aluise said. If the division doesn't hear back from the EPA within 30 days though, there is an agreement that allows the state to approve the permit.

"As of this morning, we continued to send draft NPDES permits to the EPA and will operate business-as-usual in that regard unless we are told otherwise," Aluise said.

A federal database the state uses to approve applicants for surface mining permits is also down, Aluise said. If a long federal shutdown keeps that database offline, it could affect permitting for surface mines in the near future, he said.

There's enough money saved up in the federal courts to keep their doors open nationally for 10 days. However, the shutdown does affect some aspects of the U.S. attorneys' office.

Prosecution of criminal complaints can proceed as planned, but attorneys are expected to put off any civil litigation as long as possible, according to guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Melvin Smith, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, said Wednesday morning he could not respond to any emails past noon because of the shutdown.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources oversees several social programs funded by the federal government. People continued to received Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits.

Despite weeks of postulating from national lawmakers about a potential shutdown, a DHHR spokeswoman said the department needs more time to determine the shutdown's effects.

"We are doing a thorough review of DHHR and its programs to see how this has affected it. It would be premature to comment until we have a better picture," spokeswoman Allison Adler said.

State agencies not affected at this moment include the Department of Veterans Assistance, the West Virginia Lottery, the Office of the Attorney General and more.

The National Parks in West Virginia and federally funded nature preserves also remain closed.

National delegation

West Virginia's national delegation bemoaned the shutdown but remained entrenched in their political positions on the funding debate.

Sens Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, all D-W.Va., criticized Republican attempts to tie funding for the Affordable Care Act to funding the government.

"I've served in the United States Senate long enough to know that even in times of deep disagreement, it's wrong to hold one issue hostage to another," Rockefeller said in a statement the same minute the shutdown took effect.

"Sadly, that is the only thing Republicans can say they've accomplished today."

Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both R-W.Va., each voted for a GOP-backed measure earlier in the week that would have kept the government open but stripped funding from the Affordable Care Act. Both said they remained committed to ending the shutdown without giving ground on the health care law.

"The House amendment would have ensured that members of Congress and the White House will have to live by the same health care law as the American people," McKinley said, referencing a measure that would have delayed the individual mandate included in the health care law for one year.

"Either Obamacare is good for everyone or no one. It is time for the sweetheart deals for the politically privileged to end."

The health care exchanges opened Tuesday. President Barack Obama said he wouldn't approve any measure that takes money from the Affordable Care Act, and called on Congress to fund the government.

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Dave Boucher is a writer for the Charleston Daily Mail. Contact him at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com.

 

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