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About 200 local federal employees are out of work and city projects that rely on federal grants are facing delays

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County is feeling the effects of the federal government shutdown in several ways.

The federal government shutdown is nearing conclusion of its fourth week, and some local and state agencies are beginning to feel the pinch.

The shutdown is now the longest on record, exceeding the previous high of 21 days this past Sunday. With President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats unwilling to budge over funding for a wall on the southern border, there does not appear to be an easy exit in sight.

Locally, the shutdown has resulted in an estimated 200 people going without work, or in some cases, working without pay. The estimate is based on information complied by the Oregon Employment Department compared against data from last March, which the agency considers the best reflection of winter employment in Central Oregon.

"We don't know whether those people are furloughed or whether they are considered essential and still working but just unpaid," said Damon Runberg, Central Oregon's regional economist with the Employment Department. "I would presume that the vast majority in Crook County would fall under the furloughed (jobs) because most of the land management agencies are non-essential."

Runberg said that the people out of work because of the shutdown qualify for unemployment insurance benefits and added that the Employment Department is seeing an uptick in applications for benefits throughout the state.

However, those benefits in all likelihood will have to be repaid after the shutdown.

"Historically, what has happened with these federal shutdowns is the federal workers receive back pay for the time that they were furloughed or working without pay," Runberg explained. "They are then required to pay back the unemployment insurance benefits that they received from the back pay."

He went on to liken it to an advance on the back pay.

Meanwhile, City of Prineville and Crook County departments are feeling the impact of the shutdown to varying degrees. County Commissioner Jerry Brummer, who works with the county's natural resources staff and committee, said the county has not seen much of an impact besides the absence of local Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management staff at recent meetings.

City Finance Director Liz Schuette likewise reports that the shutdown has not had an impact on the majority of city services.

"The grants that we have are from previous grants that have been approved," she said, "so as of right now, we are receiving all of the dispersements we are anticipating."

While that is the case, the city's public works department has been forced to delay the launch of its Barnes Butte property master plan work. City Engineer Eric Klann notes that funds from a grant awarded by National Parks Services was supposed to be dispersed in mid-January.

"We are just in a holding pattern on development of that master plan, which isn't a big deal at the end of the day," Klann said. "That is a long process, so if we start a couple months later, we will still get through it."

Perhaps the greatest impact to local government projects will be at the Prineville Airport. Manager Kelly Coffelt was pleasantly surprised that the shutdown did not affect any of his airport projects involving the Federal Aviation Administration. However, the closure of the Ochoco National Forest could seriously hamper progress on the facility's heli-base project.

"We are trying to work out this Forest Service project, which is a land lease and a building and such, and we keep getting closer and closer, but right now with the shutdown, it has closed down their engineering and leasing agent that we are working with to iron out costs," Coffelt said. "Today, it doesn't bother us, but if it goes another two weeks, it's going to start putting a pinch on the project."

The government shutdown has also prompted most local banks to offer either special loan programs for furloughed workers or hotlines that they can call to connect with special care. Washington Federal announced that they will offer a 90-day interest free loan through the duration of the shutdown for an amount equal to the net take-home pay of six missed paychecks. Mid Oregon Credit Union is offering 60-day, zero interest loans as well, with the loan amount based upon the application. After 60 days, the interest rate changes to 6 percent.

Chase, U.S. Bank, First Interstate and Wells Fargo banks all offer a phone number that furloughed employees can call for further assistance.

At that state level, the government has yet to see deep impacts, but Oregonians are nevertheless feeling the effects.

In late December, about a week into the shutdown, Elizabeth Craig, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, said state agencies that receive funding from their shuttered federal counterparts could weather the storm for about another week without making any adjustments. But some federal payments have continued during the shutdown, and the state has reserves to keep others afloat. This week, Craig sent Oregon Capital Bureau an update on agencies and programs that rely on federal dollars.

Craig has previously said the state would seek to recoup any extra money it has to shell out during the shutdown. The biggest impact, she said, is a change in workload. Federal judges aren't working, so federal cases impacting the state and Oregonians are placed on hold.

The partial government shutdown has frozen operations for the federal departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury. Some state programs should be fine through the federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, as long as the closed agencies keep making payments. Others could be impacted earlier, possibly at the end of the month.

One area of concern is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, also called welfare. That program provides cash payments for low-income families with children to pay for things like high rent costs. The Department of Human Services has funds to keep the program afloat through the month, but could run into issues if the shutdown extends into February.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently asked Oregon and other states to provide early issuance of February benefits for those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The 615,405 Oregonians currently enrolled in SNAP will see their next monthly allocation by Jan. 20.

"We want to be clear that these are not additional funds that SNAP recipients are receiving, but an early issuance of February benefits," said Self-Sufficiency Director Kim Fredlund. "Those who typically see additional funds added to their EBT card the first week of each month will see their February money by Jan. 20, rather than at the beginning of next month."

Another impact is on the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which trains first responders such as police and firefighters. Grant reviews paused and classes at the National Fire Academy are canceled.

Despite the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development being closed, payments are still being made for low-income housing vouchers. However, Craig noted funding could dry up if the shutdown continues.

So far, the state's natural resource departments have been relatively unimpacted, but if the shutdown extends to February, that will likely change. The feds owe $18 million in reimbursements to the Department of Forestry, forcing the state to use lines of credit-charging interest to fund operations.

The Department of Environmental Quality can go unchanged until March, at which point it would have to dip into reserve funds to sustain itself until the end of June, when there would be a shortage.

Oregon's alcohol industry could potentially be impacted, as the federal government cannot approve any new beer, wine or spirit labels. That means those new products can't enter the market during the shutdown, but Craig reported that has so far only impacted one wine label.

Just because state government is staying afloat doesn't mean Oregonians aren't hurting. Last Friday marked the first missed paycheck for furloughed federal workers, with news reports claiming some were forced to find creative ways to pay bills, such as extending lines of credit or dipping into college savings accounts.

Private industry can also depend on the federal government, especially the agricultural industry. Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, said he had a meeting set up with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to talk about wolf depredation on Oregon Cattle, but it got canceled due to the shutdown.

"The situation that is occurring is a really, really tough situation," he said. "A lot of cattle are getting maimed and killed."

Rosa also said this time of year is when federal loans and programs which fund things like seeding and equipment purchases are renewed, but that money has temporarily dried up. "I've had several comments and calls about that," he said. "It's pretty frustrating."

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