The federal government went into a partial shutdown for the first time in 17 years Tuesday, and the sting can be felt across the country.
Some entities, such as the U.S. Postal Service, and funding streams, such as Medicare, largely will be unaffected, but Internal Revenue Service actions mostly will be put on hold, all national parks and monuments will be closed, documentation such as passports might be tougher to get, some federal workers will be furloughed and social service agency functions will be limited.
The shutdown occurred when the U.S. House and Representatives and Senate came to a standstill in regard to funding the Affordable Care Act. A back and forth between the Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate so far has resulted in a stalemate.
U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, said he doesn’t know how long the shutdown will last, but he wants it to end as soon as possible.
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“A government shutdown is not the solution,” he said.
Getting by, for now
For now, most of the county and municipal government agencies that receive federal funding seem to be fine.
Centre County Administrator Tim Boyde said the county isn’t likely to see any major effects in the short term.
“The big-ticket items that we receive federal funding for fall into the Medicare and Medicaid service delivery arena, and we don’t see a major impact on that at this point,” he said.
But Retired and Senior Volunteer Program tax preparation services will be put on hold until the issue is solved, Board of Commissioners Chairman Steve Dershem said.
On the municipal side, State College’s two AmeriCorps workers will continue to work and be paid, a relief to the staff who work with them.
Clay Chiles works with environmental coordinator Alan Sam, and Lauren Muthler works with communications coordinator Courtney Hayden, a former AmeriCorps member herself.
Hayden said the way the borough matches federal funding to pay the member stipends for the year they work with the borough — a $9,000 match this year — means that the borough money is drawn first to pay Chiles and Muthler their full stipends while the shutdown takes place.
“So even though there’s a shutdown and the administrators aren’t getting anything, our AmeriCorps folks are,” Hayden said. “It’s nice that I don’t have to say to this person, ‘You’re not going to get your stipend this week.’ ”
Elsewhere in the borough, Hayden said the largest affect could be related to a Department of Justice program. The borough receives Office on Violence Against Women grants, which help the police department deal with domestic abuse.
The police department will operate as usual, but if the shutdown lasts beyond Friday, the borough won’t have access to online access or technical assistance related to management of the grants.
“We will continue to re-evaluate if the shutdown continues,” said borough Manager Tom Fountaine. “For the present time, funding and fund draw-downs for CDBG and HOME will not be affected.”
Community Development Block Grant and HOME funds come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and help communities fund affordable housing and other betterment projects.
Others in the Centre Region don’t anticipate any impacts.
Officials from the Centre Area Transportation Authority, which receives federal funding, said they don’t foresee any immediate impacts and also aren’t aware of any in the long-term.
“All aspects of our service are operating normally today,” said service Manager Eric Bernier.
CATA General Manager Hugh Mose answered an inquiry from Chicago, where he’s attending the annual meeting of the American Public Transportation Association.
“Many of the conference sessions involve (Federal Transit Administration) representatives, so needless to say, the requirement that all federal employees return to Washington late (Monday) has really disrupted things,” Mose said by email.
Mose said he doesn’t foresee any problems related to federal funding.
“While we certainly rely on federal funding for both our capital and operating programs, we’re not interacting with the (FTA) or any other agency on an ongoing basis,” he said. “We are waiting for FTA grant approval for our maintenance facility expansion project, but that’s been pending for several months.”
Centre Region Council of Governments Executive Director Jim Steff said he doesn’t anticipate any effects on regional services. While the COG has borrowed funds for various projects, they are through local banks and should not be affected.
At the University Park Airport, Director Bryan Rodgers said there is money in the Federal Contract Tower Program to pay the airport’s six air traffic controllers through the end of the month.
“Beyond Oct. 31, there would be a question mark,” he said.
Rodgers said there are 250-some towers across the country like the one at the University Park Airport that are funded by the federal program.
The U.S. Contract Tower Association was created by the American Association of Airport Executives in 1996 to enhance aviation safety at smaller airports across the country, according to the group’s website.
“There are huge benefits to having the tower that we have,” Rodgers said. “The FAA did a benefit-to-cost analysis, and our ratio was nearly two-to-one.”
He added that the program actually saves taxpayer money.
Nonprofits could face risks
Many of the partially federally funded local nonprofits are also not ready to panic in the early stages of the shutdown.
But a protracted shutdown could drain the Centre County Youth Service Bureau’s coffers.
About $550,000 from three federal grants supports large parts of three YSB programs: a runaway shelter in State College, a transitional living program for youth ages 17-21 and mobile community outreach services.
YSB submits monthly bills to the federal government to be reimbursed for program expenses.
“It is possible that our reimbursements would be held up,” YSB Chief Executive Officer Andrea Boyles said.
YSB will continue all its services in full, Boyles said. In the short term, the bureau will be able to draw on its reserve fund to pay for services without reimbursement, Boyles said.
In the worst-case scenario — a shutdown lasting three months or more — the bureau might have to take out a line of credit, she said.
“It just depends on how long it will last,” Boyles said.
At State College-based Strawberry Fields Inc., early intervention services for children from birth to 3 years of age and programs for adults with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities are funded primarily through monthly state reimbursements, said Executive Director Cynthia Pasquinelli.
But she said “it’s still too early to tell” about the shutdown’s long-range impact on her agency because some of the state-administered funds come from the federal government.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I can’t believe it happened. We may know more as this progresses.”
Both YSB and Strawberry Fields are Centre County United Way partners. CCUW Executive Director Tammy Gentzel said she thinks most of the partner agencies have reserve funds to fall back on, but if any run into a financial crunch, the United Way can tap advance funds designated for each agency from this year’s community fundraiser campaign.
“We could release them early to help with any cash flow problems they have,” Gentzel said.
For now, Cen-Clear Child Services in Philipsburg will continue to run Head Start and Early Head Start childhood programs in Centre and Clearfield counties on federal dollars.
The agency receives about $5 million annually to serve 776 children with the two programs.
Executive Director Gene Kephart said the agency is “OK right now” because it’s using Head Start funds allocated in the 2013 fiscal year.
But, he said, a potential problem could come from the Head Start regional office in Philadelphia. He said he thinks the office’s staffers have been furloughed under the shutdown, making them unavailable to fix the electronic payment system if something goes wrong.
Then, Kephart said, his agency might not be able to continue drawing Head Start funds every two weeks.
“All you need is one computer glitch and it could all fall apart,” he said.
Housing Transitions in State College should still receive the federal money it uses to help operate its emergency homeless shelter and homebuyer assistance programs.
Executive Director Ron Quinn said a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development emergency contingency plan ensures that his agency will have its HUD funds granted for 2013 — eventually. They’ve been delayed so far this year because of the earlier budget sequestration cuts.
“As far as I know, there will not be any further delay,” Quinn said.
Housing Transitions receives about $25,000 for the shelter and about $140,000 for the home assistance program in HUD funds each year, Quinn said. Though the shutdown won’t affect his funding for now, he’s concerned about the future.
“Going forward, that’s a big question of how this will impact things in 2014,” he said.
Medicare funding for hospitals also will continue to come through, making it business as usual for much of the medical industry, Geisinger spokeswoman Sue Baranik said.
All Medicare fee-for-service claims will be processed and paid, according to a release from the American Hospital Association.
Mount Nittany Health echoed the same assurances.
“We have been assured by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that they will continue to cover people with Medicare, and we do not anticipate delays in payments for the care provided,” Chief Financial Officer Richard Wisniewski said in a statement.
Similarly, the Centre County Veterans Affairs Office is not affected by the close of the federal government.
Director Brian Querry said that as the sole person who runs the department, he is hired by the county and uses volunteers who often help him.
The important thing he said is that benefits still are being distributed to those serviced by the VA’s office.
Annually, Querry said his department is funded by more than $1 million through the federal government that acts as compensation based on veteran disabilities or pensions based on wartime service and/or income. The Veterans Affairs Office services about 9,000 people in the county.
He said all clinics are open, counseling services are available, and applications for death, benefits and others are still running.
“We’re still here, still working with veterans, and we’re working as-normal operations,” Querry said.
Querry said his department has gotten about a dozen phone calls regarding the impacts of the office locally in terms of the government shutdown.
“The VA has put out a field guidance, and I’m giving them the information of that,” Querry said.
The guidelines said all VA medical facilities and clinics would remain fully operational.
“The key thing is money. They’re still funded and have about two to three weeks of funding available. It’s been relayed to us from the federal government that they believe they have the funding to cover that. If it goes beyond that then there could be a problem.”
Penn State’s outstanding grant-funded research projects will not immediately cease, but a prolonged shutdown will prevent any new projects from getting off the ground, university spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz wrote in an email.
“We have been informed that the government’s automated system for grant submission will remain active to receive new proposals, but those proposals will not be processed for review until funding is restored,” she wrote.
She said a long shutdown will have more negative effects on Penn State because federal agencies are not allowed to accept or extend any grants or contracts.
The bargaining table
Ultimately, Rep. Thompson believes the solution will come at the negotiating table.
He said he is hopeful the House and Senate can find common ground on a compromise. He has proposed party leaders sitting down together in a conference-style meeting to work out the differences.
In the meantime, all of his staff members are still working without pay.
But furloughs have taken hold in the offices of other elected officials —like Sen. Bob Casey’s.
Casey’s office did not release an official statement Tuesday, and spokeswoman April Mellody said his offices are minimally staffed with limited access to resources.
Some have suggested that the shutdown could ultimately save the country some money, but Thompson said it’s not a viable option because shutdowns and start-ups end up costing large amounts.
He wants it to be resolved as soon as possible.
“The longer this goes, obviously, the more problems this creates,” he said.