Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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The U.S. Postal Service is an independent agency with its own stream of funding, so post offices will remain open and mail delivery will continue as usual.
The Transportation Security Administration and air traffic controllers are continuing to operate.
All national parks, as well as federal wildlife refuges like the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, are closed.
All Amtrak trains are running as usual.
These programs are considered to be mandatory spending, and benefits will continue to be processed as usual. However, new applicants may experience delays.
Rental-assistance programs have enough funding to pay landlords through October.
Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta and smaller VA outpatient clinics throughout the rest of the state are fully operational.
Food stamp programs are open for now and operating on reserve funds.
Uncertain funding will put applications for federal heating assistance programs on hold. “Once we find out, we’ll kick into overdrive to get those benefits out,” says Deborah Turcotte of MaineHousing.
Cobscook Bay State Park in far Down East Maine closed Wednesday because the land is part of the federally owned Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands manages about 800 of the refuge’s 29,000 acres under a decades-old agreement.
Bill Kolodnicki, the refuge’s manager, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to ask the state to close the Cobscook Bay campground because of liability concerns and the fact that there is no federal staffing because of the shutdown. A boat ramp that’s popular with boaters has also been closed.
The refuge had to cancel three high school cross-country meets and a trail maintenance crew that drew people from across the country. On Wednesday afternoon, Kolodnicki was preparing to leave Moosehorn. He will be prohibited from returning – along with the rest of the refuge staff except law enforcement – until the budget situation is resolved.
“It’s very hard for our staff and for the public,” he said.
About 170 workers have been furloughed at the Naval Sea Systems Command’s supervisor of shipbuilding office at Bath Iron Works because of the shutdown, said spokesman Chris Johnson. That is in addition to the 1,500 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery who have been sent home.
One of the largest groups that would be severely affected by a prolonged shutdown is disabled veterans, military retirees and their surviving spouses.
Veterans will continue to receive medical care at facilities such as the Togus hospital outside Augusta because those accounts are funded a year ahead. But the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said in a “field guide to the government shutdown” that funding for processing and payments of pensions and compensation for education and rehabilitation programs will continue only through late October.
After that, “claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended,” the department said.
Members of Congress have discussed a legislative patch to address the benefits.
“If payments are suspended, veterans will not be denied what they are entitled to – veterans will be paid retroactively once funding is in place,” said Ed Gilman, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Maine veterans received $420 million in disability compensation and pensions in fiscal year 2012, according to the VA. The state has an estimated 130,000 veterans.
Peter Ogden, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services, said his department is receiving regular updates from the VA about the situation. It also is getting calls from veterans and family members. But the department is not yet at the point where it is discussing how to respond if pension and disability compensation payments stop arriving.
Gov. Paul LePage urged Mainers late Wednesday to demand that Congress act to put National Guard employees back to work. About 400 in Maine were furloughed this week. He also said that guardsmen and women should be included in the Pay Our Military Act, which passed before the shutdown and guaranteed pay for active military members.
“Some of these men and women have been deployed multiple times,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “Now they are being used to make a political point. This is a shameful tactic to use against Mainers who have put their life on the line to protect our freedoms.”
Steve SanPedro, commander of the Portland post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he had not heard from any members who have not received their benefits.
“I was a little worried about getting a (disability) check on Tuesday, but it came,” he said. “Next month, who knows?”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: