Friday, March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON — Mainers will feel the effects of the first federal government shutdown in 17 years based on where they live, what they do and – perhaps most important – how long the congressional gridlock lasts.
Small-business people who need federal loans might face longer waits. Campers will have to leave Acadia National Park. And thousands of civilian employees at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard won’t know whether they will be able to work and, if not, how long they will go without pay.
“There’s no guarantee that if you’re out on furlough, you’ll get paid,” said Debbie Jennings, president of the shipyard’s International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. “We don’t know if this is going to be a one-day thing or a week.”
Most Maine residents won’t notice much difference.
Mail will be delivered six days a week. Social Security, Medicare and food stamp benefits will be distributed as usual. And veterans will be able to see their doctors or get prescriptions from Togus and other facilities.
MIXED IMPACTS ON DEFENSE
About 10,900 federal employees were working in Maine in June, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management. About half of them are tied to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, where workers repair and maintain nuclear-powered submarines.
In the event of a shutdown, many of the more than 4,700 civilian workers at the shipyard won’t know whether they will be working Tuesday until after they arrive for work.
“If a government shutdown occurs, all Department of Defense personnel (civilians and sailors) would still report to work on their next scheduled duty day, beginning at their normal hours, where they will then receive additional guidance and instructions,” a defense official said Monday.
Jennings described a chaotic atmosphere Monday as workers frantically sought information.
If the shutdown lasts two weeks or more, shipyard employees will be responsible for paying their employer’s share of their health insurance premiums, Jennings said.
The House and the Senate passed bills to continue paying active duty military personnel during a shutdown. And Department of Veterans Affairs programs – including the Togus VA hospital in Augusta – will continue to serve clients, although functions such as disability appeals may be delayed.
The Maine Department of Labor receives 97 percent of its funding from the federal government, but department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said Monday that it does not foresee an impact on “core services,” such as payments of unemployment insurance benefits or processing of new applications.
“We anticipate that we should be able to maintain all critical services if this a short-term shutdown,” Rabinowitz said. “If it goes on longer, we will have to make some other decisions based on guidance we get from the feds.”
ACADIA CLOSED FOR BUSINESS
Acadia National Park typically gets about 600,000 visitors in September and October but will be closed to the public just as the fall foliage season begins, potentially making a major economic impact on Mount Desert Island.
All park roads – including the Park Loop and the route up Cadillac Mountain – will be closed to traffic. Hiking trails and carriage roads will also technically be closed, though deputy Superintendent Len Bobinchock said the park’s staff will not stop people from using them. A skeleton crew of as many as 15 staffers will continue to provide law enforcement, search and rescue or other services.
Campers will be given 48 hours to vacate their campsites and offered refunds.
That could put a crimp in the plans of tourists, including tens of thousands who are expected to arrive aboard 41 cruise ships in Bar Harbor in October. Local business officials insist that there is plenty to do outside the park and hope that people will still come to Mount Desert Island.
FEDERAL COURTS IN SESSION
Christa Berry, clerk of U.S. District Court in Maine, said federal officials notified individual districts that the Judiciary has only enough money to maintain operations through Oct. 13.
“After that, the District of Maine – along with other federal courts – would be required to restrict operations to a bare minimum,” Berry said in a prepared statement.
Because federal courts are “statutorily and constitutionally required to speedily process criminal matters” regardless of funding, Berry said the district would have to explore other ways to save money. That could include restricting the processing of civil actions and limiting the hours of court personnel, especially administrative workers.
WIDESPREAD SBA CLOSURES
Only two programs in the U.S. Small Business Administration are exempt from the shutdown: the disaster loan program and the investigatory responsibilities of the Inspector General. Almost all other offices would close.
Affected programs include guaranteed loans to small businesses, international trade assistance, and programs that support businesses owned by women, veterans and Native Americans.
“Maine is a small business state and loans are extremely important,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “The big question is whether the shutdown lasts a day, a week or longer. There is no question it is going to have an impact.”
MINIMAL IMPACT ON EDUCATION
U.S. Department of Education officials have assured state officials that even if federal staffers are furloughed, the federal dollars will to flow to Maine.
Maine’s Department of Education typically receives federal cash for education on or around July 1 and Oct. 1. Samantha Warren, the department’s spokeswoman, said funding for a few programs has yet to arrive but fed officials have committed to providing it, though perhaps with a delay.
She said, “I think this uncertainty is a reminder to many of us at the state level of why we cannot become too reliant on the feds and must look within for more sustainable streams of funding.”
FOOD STAMPS SAFE; WIC MAY NOT BE
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – food stamps – will continue unabated. The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program can run on carry-over funds, but only until around mid-October.
“We have enough funding to allow the program to operate for 15 days without hardship,” said John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The shutdown is not expected to have an immediate impact on housing assistance programs for low-income Mainers – including Section 8 vouchers – or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
An extended shutdown could affect planning for the home heating program but would affect disbursements to oil dealers only if it stretched well into the fall, said Maine State Housing Authority spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:email@example.com