October 15, 2013

If no debt deal reached, deep pain for Maine

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Steve SanPedro, commander of Portland VFW Post 6859, is worried that the federal budget stalemate will cause problems for post members who rely on their military retirement payments to live. Many don’t have other sources of income, he said.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Maine has more veterans per capita than most states and well as one of the highest percentage’s of people over age 65 and relying at least in part on Social Security benefits. Portland VFW Post 6859 Commander Steve San Pedro (left) and member Norm McLeod, 84, of Portland, discuss their concerns about financial issues should the Congress fail to compromise.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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The veterans health programs run through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been unaffected by the government shutdown that began Oct. 1 because they are funded a year in advance.

Other benefits programs for veterans, such as pension and disability compensation payments, would potentially be affected if the shutdown dragged on until the end of the month. The VA has said that those payments to more than 5 million veterans could be halted within weeks.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testified last week that the continued government shutdown will result in the Veterans Benefits Administration going from 13,000 staffers to roughly 1,100.

“I am planning to operate as long as I can this month. But at a certain point – in days – I will begin to furlough people,” Shinseki told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Whatever occurs with the debt ceiling, I imagine, will be even worse.”

Indeed, as Lew indicated, the U.S. Treasury will be forced in the event of a default to decide whether to pay out veterans benefits or pay its other debts.

Veterans in Maine received $420 million in pension and disability compensation payments in fiscal year 2012, according to the VA.

Steve SanPedro, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Portland post, is worried for members who rely on their military retirement payments to live. More than half of the post’s 478 members served in the Korean War or World War II, and many don’t have other sources of income, he said.

“We always help. Obviously, we can’t pay all of our members’ mortgages,” SanPedro said of what would happen if those checks don’t arrive next month.

SanPedro, who retired from the Army, is also on disability for multiple physical problems from “jumping out of planes for 16 years,” he said. He’ll have to delve into his savings to cover his bills, if those payments don’t come.

“Those two checks are my main source of income,” said SanPedro, who works part time selling appliances at Sears. His job as commander is voluntary.

FOOD ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Maine also consistently ranks near the top in the nation in terms of the number of people who receive food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In 2012, 17.8 percent of Maine residents – one out of every six Mainers – were using food stamps, ranking the state fourth.

A default’s impact on SNAP and its 47 million recipients nationwide is unclear at this point.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which operates the program, said it has enough money to continue paying households through October in the event of a prolonged shutdown. The program also has about $2 billion in contingency funds that could be used after that. But those policy assessments addressed only a shutdown, not a default.

Another nutrition assistance program – the Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, program – that serves roughly 26,000 clients in Maine would be affected by a long-term impasse. Maine’s WIC administrators have said they have enough money to pay for current enrollees and new applicants through November.

FEDERAL WORKERS

Maine, as a whole, does not have a disproportionately large number of federal workers, especially when compared with states such as Virginia and Maryland.

But Greater Portland ranks 22nd among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in terms of the percent of the local workforce employed by the government or the military, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. In 2012, roughly 4.8 percent of the Portland area’s 265,000 workers were employed by the federal government.

Kevin Miller can be reached at (207) 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinMillerDC

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