Government shutdown drags on

In second week


by: HOLLY M. GILL - The Crooked River National Grassland office remains closed this week.For now, Jefferson County has seen few effects from the government shutdown, set into motion on Oct. 1, after the U.S. Congress failed to pass a resolution for continued funding.

Now in its second week — with no sign of agreement in sight — the shutdown has furloughed U.S. government employees considered "nonessential," including those employed by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Crooked River Grassland office, operated by the U.S. Forest Service's district office in Prineville, closed its office in the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, and the Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery closed to the public on Oct. 1.

The shutdown may also affect a variety of federal programs.

Tom Machala, director of the Jefferson County Public Health Department, said that the main concern in his office is about the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program, commonly known as WIC.

by: TONY AHERN - The Trout Creek Campground was also closed as a result of the government shutdown, which began on Oct. 1."The worry there is whether the funds will be available at the state level," said Machala, noting that the state receives federal funding for the program. "Right now, they say they have enough for three or four weeks, but it depends on how much the state has in reserve."

Jefferson County, which receives about $600,000 a year through WIC, has about 900 kids and 300 pregnant or breastfeeding mothers enrolled in the program — about $5,000 a month.

"It will get serious here at some point," said Machala. "We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop."

The health department is gearing up to provide flu shots, but hasn't yet received its doses, some of which come from the federal Vaccines For Children program, which provides vaccinations for low-income children.

"We're waiting for our doses to show up; they’re delayed," said Machala. "We had them in place this time last year."

The health department has federal contracts for family planning, immunizations, and "a lot of laboratory work that’s paid for by federal grants," he continued.

In the event of an outbreak of a disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not available for information. The state has their own staff, but they’re paid by federal funds," Machala said, adding that many state programs are run by "pass-through funds."

While the health department performs inspections on restaurants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for inspections on locations that serve food and also sell food items. "They're probably not doing inspections," he said.

Another county department, Community Justice, will continue to operate its work crew program for adults and juveniles, but may not get repaid as quickly as usual, according to Jeff Lichtenberg, director of the County Community Justice Department.

The crews often work on federal lands and receive assistance from the U.S. Forest Service. "It sounds like we can still do our work crew out there, but until the shutdown's over, we won't be able to be reimbursed for our work," he said, noting that they submit their information on a quarterly basis, "so it shouldn't have much of an impact."

Last week, Dan Martinez, chief of Warm Springs Fire and Safety, responded to a massive fuel spill on U.S. Highway 26 on the Warm Springs Reservation on Sept. 30, which required attention from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The federal EPA people had to leave that first night, because of the shutdown," said Martinez. "They were replaced with the state EPA, but they don't have the jurisdiction. We're working in partnership with them to make sure we're all on the same page."

The impasse that shut down the government was a result of failed negotiations on a bill to maintain funding through December. The U.S. House of Representatives, which has a Republican majority, passed the measure, but tacked on language that would have defunded the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Democratic-majority Senate voted to move the resolution forward with an amendment to take out the language defunding the ACA.

The act, passed into law in 2010, has some provisions — such as one that prevents insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions — that have already taken effect, but others are scheduled to go into effect in January.

On Tuesday, national news reports suggested that Democrats in the House and Senate and the president are not willing to pass a funding resolution with a condition that includes a delay in implementation of the Affordable Care Act, while Republicans in the House are still insisting on the delay.

In the meantime, national parks have closed, NASA employees are on furlough, the Department of Veterans Affairs is rapidly running out of money for compensation and pension checks for veterans, and many congressional offices have closed, so constituents might have trouble contacting their representatives.

A call to Rep. Greg Walden's Bend office went to voice mail, and an email to the national office received no response.

If a resolution isn't passed, effects of the shutdown are expected to become more severe as the month progresses. On Oct. 17, the government could run out of authority to borrow money if the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling isn't raised. The possibility of a default on debt has already caused the stock market to fall, and interest rates to rise.

However, a timely funding resolution and agreement to raise the debt ceiling could reverse those effects.

Locally, government officials just want to remind the public that it's still business as usual.

"We have people coming through every day here," said Machala. "They’re just wondering if we’re open."




Local Weather

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Madras

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Humidity: 76%

Wind: 18 mph

  • 20 Dec 2014

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  • 21 Dec 2014

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