Wednesday, October 2, 2013
OKANOGAN The federal government’s partial shutdown would impact a number of agencies and programs locally, mostly in the recreation sector.
The U.S. House and Senate in Washington, D.C., are at a standoff on funding the government, with the Republican-controlled House insisting on defunding or delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act — dubbed Obamacare – and the Democratic-controlled Senate saying implementation of the act needs to go ahead as planned.
“Implementation of Obamacare has been marked with delays, missteps, missed deadlines and broken promises,” U.S. Rep. Richard “Doc” Hastings, R-4th Congressional District, said. “I have heard a number of first-hand accounts from Central Washingtonians about loss of their current health care benefits and drastic increases in premiums due to Obamacare.
“Our nation simply cannot afford these higher costs and uncertainty when the economy is still struggling to recover.”
President Obama has said he would veto any spending bill that weakens the Affordable Care Act. He also called for raising the debt ceiling.
Congress had a Sept. 30 deadline to come to agreement.
Under the shutdown, power generation at the area’s two federal dams won’t be affected, although Chief Joseph Dam’s visitor services will be.
Visitor access and public areas at Chief Joseph, located on the Columbia River just upstream from Bridgeport, would be closed. Essential operations – including power generation — would continue, but would be minimally staffed, Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Scot Lawrence said.
The Corps operates the dam, with electricity going into the federal grid.
Corps-maintained boat ramps at Chief Joseph Dam would not be patrolled by Corps staff and the visitor center, campgrounds and day-use facilities will be closed, the Corps’ Seattle office said.
A few miles upstream, at Grand Coulee Dam, the federal shutdown won’t impact operations, Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Lynne Brougher said.
The dam runs on non-appropriated funding, meaning most of its funding comes directly from ratepayers and is not dependent on federal appropriations. Besides, the dam provides critical power and water services, so it would not be affected in any case, she said.
For Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, which encompasses the pool above the dam, the federal shutdown is a different story.
“Everything would be shut down,” spokeswoman Denise Bausch said of the recreation area’s boat launches, visitor centers, concessionaire sites and 27 campgrounds.
The area has two concessionaires operating at three sites – Keller Ferry, Seven Bays and Kettle Falls. They offer marina services such as fuel, pump-outs and slip rental.
Of 58 staff members within the recreation area’s local operations, 27 will remain working this week. If the shutdown goes for more than a few days, 14 more of them would be furloughed, Bausch said.
Campers at both Chief Joseph and Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area campgrounds would be asked to leave, the agencies said.
In addition, national parks and monuments would be closed, as would Forest Service ranger stations. Campgrounds also would be closed, which would affect hunters coming to the area for this weekend’s opening of the general firearms season.
A shutdown memo for the agency listed as essential fire suppression, law enforcement, emergency and natural disaster response, protection of federal holdings, cyber security and infrastructure to support key positions essential personnel and several other functions.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs also will face shutdown of most of its operations, Superintendent Debra Wulff said.
She and a few members of the sales staff would remain on the job so as not to impact the Colville Confederated Tribes’ timber operations, but everyone else likely would be furloughed.
That includes fire control personnel.
Wulff said furlough notices were sent out last week, but final notification of specific positions on the list hadn’t come to her office as of Monday.
Indian Health Service officials could not be reached for comment, but federal officials have said emergency medical care would not be impacted.
Tribal officials could not be reached for comment on additional tribal budget impact.
Okanogan County doesn’t expect too much impact, unless some departments are expecting grant payments. The county already has received its federal payment in lieu of tax payment for the year, the Treasurer’s Office said.
Ferry County officials could not be reached for comment.
Federal services and agencies expected to remain open include the U.S. military, air traffic control, emergency medical care, Border Patrol, food safety inspection, federal prisons, most law enforcement, emergency and disaster assistance, banking overseers, the power grid, Social Security and certain types of veterans’ benefits, agencies with independent funding sources such as the U.S. Postal Service and Federal Reserve, and members of Congress.
Employees who are kept on the job likely won’t get a paycheck during the shutdown, but would get retroactive pay once Congress decides to fund the government again.
Collateral impacts are expected on some state agencies, including the state Employment Security Department and schools.
Employment Security and local WorkSource centers “are supported primarily with federal funds,” the department said Monday. “We plan to keep all offices and functions operating through this week. If Congress doesn’t approve a bill this week, we will have to start shutting down some of our functions next week.”
Okanogan County WorkSource Administrator Craig Carroll could not be reached for comment.
Most local school superintendents are taking a wait-and-see attitude concerning the shutdown.
“The scope of ramifications are unclear, which makes everyone a bit nervous,” Mansfield Superintendent Cora Nordby said.
Grand Coulee Dam School District Superintendent Dennis Carlson said he’s not sure what impact the shutdown will have on the federal agencies with which the district deals or the fallout of any impact on the families and children of those agencies’ employees.
Any shutdown will not affect the district directly, unless it goes into the end of October, he said.
“We always front-fund our federal program using our fund balance and then rely on federal reimbursements in the following month,” he said.
That concern was echoed by Kyle Rydell in Republic, Paul Turner in Tonasket and Richard Johnson in Okanogan.
“If things would last longer than a couple of weeks, we may need to adjust programming,” Rydell said.
“We will be OK through the month, as long as the government (shutdown) doesn’t go into November,” Turner said.
“Because (Okanogan) has enough in reserves to go for about a month, (it) will not be affected by the shutdown,” Johnson said.
Keller Superintendent Gary Greene said he’s more concerned about the impact of sequestration than a government shutdown, unless the shutdown stretches into November.
“Sequestration takes away a portion of our impact aide that was put in place to compensate districts on reservations or military bases where we cannot generate a great deal of money through levies,” he said.