Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Federal workers on the reservation feel the bite of furloughs; food boxes organized.

HOLLY M. GILL/MADRAS PIONEER - Mike Leno, a BIA employee who lives in Madras, has been called to work during the shutdown, but without pay. Above, Leno packages elk meat.More than a month after the start of the federal government shutdown, the estimated 800,000 federal workers who are on furlough, or working without pay, are about to miss their second paycheck.

In Jefferson County, those furloughed or working without pay include people working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service. Last week, concerned Warm Springs residents began putting together food and supply boxes for about 100 workers.

Mike Leno, of Madras, who works for the BIA and is one of those furloughed workers, kept himself busy Friday grinding and packaging elk meat for his small family.

Leno, who has spent more than 18 years working for the BIA, has been on furlough from his job as road maintenance supervisor since the longest shutdown in history started at midnight on Dec. 22. He's also one of those workers who has been called in to work without pay — at least for now.

During last week's freezing rain, Leno and his crew of three were called in to make the roads safer for buses and other traffic on the reservation.

"The (Warm Springs) police department will call if we need to go out," he said. "We went in at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night and got home at 4 a.m. (Thursday), and went back out again at 6:30 a.m."

"We're called in to work, but we don't get paid," said Leno, whose wife, Teresa, only works part time. "If this thing drags on ... a person can't go much longer. I've got a daughter in college, a house payment, a car payment."

Leno signed up for unemployment on Dec. 26, but spent weeks trying to get his wages verified with the BIA shut down. "They just now got it straightened out, because they couldn't verify wages," he said on Friday.

In the winter months, the Warm Springs road department does pothole patching, guardrail repair and sign replacement, along with clearing roads.

"That's not getting done; I think it sucks," he said. "We can't do our job. We're public servants; we're there for the public and we can't go out and do our job like it's supposed to be done."

"It affects everybody," Leno continued. "My department, I probably spend $10,000 to $20,000 a month in Madras. It's a trickle down deal."

Leno has heard negative and uninformed comments about government workers from people in the community. "You find out who your friends are in times like these," he said.

At the IHS clinic, which provides health care and referrals to members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, programs are considered "excepted," which means that the clinic must continue to operate the programs, even though the people operating the programs are not getting paid.

Despite several requests for information on the number of people affected at the Warm Springs clinic, no information was available directly from IHS. However, Michele Gemelas, who was the director of quality improvement and risk management at the clinic before retiring in 2010, said that the clinic has more than 80 employees, including her husband, an officer in IHS.

"They have been told that they must come to work regardless of their pay status, because they are essential," she said, adding that most are very dedicated to their work for the Warm Springs people, and would have been there even if it hadn't been required. "They are not allowed to take a day off."

The IHS employees include civil service employees and eight commissioned officers.

"The clinic actually has a room dedicated to donating food to those who are struggling," said Gemelas. "Staff that can manage it are bringing in everything from paper towels to toilet paper to canned goods. Several employees have sought out food programs in town to feed their families. It's really a terrible situation."

Gemelas assists with the Brown Bag food assistance program at the Madras United Methodist Church, and let people in Warm Springs know about the program.

When she asked the larger than usual group that gathered there if any were there because of the government shutdown, she said, nine people raised their hands.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services IHS website notes it will not be updated during the shutdown, but added, "Despite the lapse in appropriations, IHS will continue to provide direct clinical health care services as well as referrals for contracted services that cannot be provided through IHS clinics."

Banks and credit unions

Local banks and credit unions are taking some measures to help people affected by the shutdown. At Mid Oregon Credit Union, Kyle Frick, vice president of marketing, said that they are offering furloughed workers up to one month's net pay at 0 percent interest for 60 days.

"There's a lot of interest, particularly after the first paycheck didn't come through," he said. "We're helping members and nonmembers; they just need to bring in a pay stub from before the furlough."

Frick said that people from Warm Springs and Jefferson, Crook and Deschutes counties have been looking for assistance. "There are lots of different agencies impacted; there are about 1,300 federal employees in Central Oregon," he said. "We're definitely getting lots of interest."

At Columbia Bank, Janice Marshall, assistant manager, said that they've had inquiries from customers affected by the shutdown. "If they do have a loan, and go over and have overdraft and late fees on the loan, we'll reverse those."

Luis Jimenez, assistant manager at U.S. Bank, has been referring customers affected by the shutdown to their credit or lending departments.

"We have customers here that do work for the government," he said. "We're encouraging them to contact the (credit or lending) department."

City and county

The city of Madras is anticipating a delay on the taxiway rehabilitation project at the Madras Municipal Airport if the shutdown continues much longer.

"We're not able to seek reimbursement on our FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) grants," said Sara Johnston, human resources and administrative director for the city. "Construction is slated for February; depending on how long the shutdown last, it could delay construction. Right now, we're not in that scenario."

Although the city has already been awarded funding for the project, "It's on a reimbursement basis," she said, which means that the construction company might not be able to start as planned.

Jefferson County Administrative Officer Jeff Rasmussen said that he was out of town at meetings last week, and was not aware of any impacts to the county organization from the shutdown.

"I have not had the opportunity to poll employees/departments, so I am hesitant to say that nothing has been impacted," said Rasmussen, who planned to be back in the office Tuesday, after the Pioneer's news deadline. "We have a few federal grants, so I am unsure if any payments have been delayed."

Health impacts

Michael Baker, director of the Jefferson County Public Health Department, said that he expects WIC, the supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, to continue, even though the program is not receiving federal funds during the shutdown.

"We've been assured that federal funding for the WIC program is coming through the state," he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which also funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called SNAP or food stamps, issued the February benefits on Friday, about two weeks early.

Currently, no SNAP funding is available for March, if the shutdown continues.

Due to the government shutdown, the Food and Drug Administration had furloughed about a third of its employees, and stopped routine food inspections. Last week, the FDA announced that it would resume inspection of "the riskiest products."

If there were an outbreak of E. coli infection or a communicable disease in the county, Baker is confident that the county's agreements with Deschutes and Crook counties would help protect the area.

"We would use epidemiologists from Deschutes County, rather than the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in the event of a largescale outbreak of any communicable disease," he said. "When we really worry is when there's something on a bigger scale."

"As far as day-to-day public health programs and operations, the shutdown isn't having a big impact, but as it's ongoing, the support we do get from the state could be impacted. And, any largescale public health event would be a concern."

Housing Works

When the federal government failed to pass all of its spending bills, including the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, appropriations lapsed and the government shutdown began, potentially affecting housing for county residents.

"Housing Works' Housing Choice Voucher program is entirely funded through the THUD appropriations," said David Brandt, executive director of Housing Works, which serves more than 2,000 low-income households in Central Oregon. "The HUD offices have been largely furloughed, and the regional office in Portland is closed."

Since Housing Works relies on federal funds for Housing Assistance Payments, and administrative costs for the Housing Choice Voucher staff, and January funds were allocated prior to the shudown, he believes that there are probably enough prior year appropriations to cover February, as well.

"We will expect to see a delay in receiving some of our other federal funding awards, such as Community Development Block Grant awards, or HOME funds, but at this point, none of those funding issues are time sensitive," said Brandt.

"So far, the main impact we anticipate is to the Housing Choice Voucher program. We're awarded the money, they're dispersed locally by HUD, but they don't have the authority to award those without the appropriation," he said.

Contracts for January are already out, and appropriations are likely available for February," he said. "We have reserves that might get us through March, but it gets problematic after that. There are other housing authorities that would probably have to close their doors before that."

Housing Works owns and operates nearly 100 housing units in Madras, including Canyon East, Menta Park, Chennai Landing and Casa Sonada, all of which don't need federal appropriations, he said. "It's only the voucher holders that are immediately affected."

There are currently 61 voucher holders in Jefferson County.

Effects on agriculture

At the Oregon State University Agricultural Research Center in Madras, Carol Tollefson said that researchers have heard that local farmers and ranchers can't continue with their federal loan applications.

"We do get federal loans, but we haven't seen an interruption of that yet, but other locations across the state are being affected," she said. "OSU students and employees that work in federal facilities that are closed are affected. Now, they're not working, so there's going to be lost pay."

The USDA Farm Service Agency, which processes and administers farm loan and crop insurance programs, had furloughed most of its workers, but announced on Jan. 16, that some workers would be called back for three days to temporarily work on those programs.

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