Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

October 11, 2013

Government shutdown impact being felt

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — The first government shutdown in 17 years has begun to impact area residents. If it continues very long, more Hoosiers may start to feel more pain.

A few have learned their jobs are affected.

In August, rural Batesville resident Kristen Giesting began her first one after graduating from Otterbein College. The Oak Ridge Associated Universities intern was working at the Environmental Protection Agency, Cincinnati.

After returning from a business trip to New Jersey to help her boss set up a drinking water analysis class, “there was a lot of talk around the office (about the possibility of the government closing) and everyone knew it was something that could be coming up.” Giesting’s employer told her to watch the news.

On Oct. 1, “I checked the Internet and saw the government was shut down. I expected it wouldn’t last more than a couple of days. Because I’m not an actual federal employee, I was told originally I would still be getting paid, but last Friday (Oct. 4), I got an e-mail from the internship agency that told me after that week the interns would not be getting paid anymore.”

Because of the shutdown, her research project on drinking water microbiology, which was to start in October, has been delayed.

“I feel like it’s not affecting me too negatively” because she’s living with parents Tim and Bev Giesting. “I don’t have to worry that I may or may not be getting paid, because I know I have a place to stay.”

Batesville resident Chris Fox, Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District coordinator, has been furloughed, he said Oct. 8. Normally at this time of year, producers would be placing orders for pond fish, but the office if closed.

Internal Revenue Service employee Laura Banks, Oldenburg, has been furloughed and is not allowed to talk to reporters, said a person who answered the home phone.

Batesville Police Chief Stan Holt hasn’t noticed an impact from the mass closures. Gun permits have not been delayed and he’s not waiting on any federal grant dollars. “There’s really nothing that I can see that has affected us.”

Bank business is starting to get sluggish, observed FCN Bank marketing director Beth Siebert, who works in Batesville and Brookville. Employees have experienced delays in verifying tax records and Social Security numbers. “However, Freddie Mac is allowing banks to go back and verify with IRS and Social Security once they are open” again, she said.

“If the federal shutdown continues, the lead times will become longer and everything will continue to be delayed.”

Might borrowers have to pay extension fees to lock in interest rates? “At this time, no,” Siebert answered. “The bigger impact is on commercial lending, VA loans and first-time home loans.” Since the Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration are shuttered, “loans are not being approved or are currently on hold.”

The director believes there’s a bigger worry looming. When asked, “If the shutdown continues, could home buyers’ costs go up?” she replied, “No, the bigger risk is if the government defaults on the debt. This could lead to a long-term interest rate increase across the board.”

During the shutdown, the Indiana Bankers Association has offered assurances: “Bank deposits are safe. Banks continue to operate during normal business hours, ATMs are still open and deposits remain insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. up to $250,000. FDIC insurance is unaffected by the shutdown, because it is paid for by banks, not from taxpayer money.” The news release added, “Banks remain regulated. The primary banking regulators – the Federal Reserve Board, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. – are funded by the banks they regulate and, therefore, are not subject to the federal budget.”

The IBA document emphasized, “Social Security and Medicare payments will continue. These payments are funded through payroll taxes and will continue throughout the duration of the shutdown.”

While some have criticized Congress for not acting to end the debacle, concerned it will hurt the most vulnerable Americans, so far that’s not the case here.

Superintendent Dr. Jim Roberts reported, “The government shutdown is not immediately affecting our (Batesville) school corporation and it will take some time for that to be the case. It is likely that we have enough money built into our cafeteria cash balance to manage our free and reduced price breakfast and lunch programs for the rest of the school year. In a review of our other programs and the manner in which we are funded, there are few, if any, major effects to our day-to-day operations. Most of our dollars come from local or state sources. The dollars we receive from the federal government are typically front-loaded and the programs they fund will continue with the expectation of reimbursement.”

Charles Blake, Sunman-Dearborn Community School Corp. director of financial operations, offered similar news. “We have sufficient funds in the cafeteria accounts to run our lunch program almost to the end of this current school year. But if we did, then the salaries that our lunch personnel get would have to be picked up by our normal school accounts.”

Head Start sites in Morris, Brookville and Versailles are still open, reported Melody Minger, Head Start director at Southeastern Indiana Economic Opportunity Corp., Aurora. Each of those locations offer a double session with 16 tykes between 3 and 5 learning in the morning and another 16 in the afternoon. “Our Head Start classes will remain open, as far as we know right now. No employees have been furloughed.”

SIEOC received $1.99 million in federal funding in 2013 to help preschoolers develop reading and math skills, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration Web site. Economically disadvantaged families who would like to enroll kids that age in the program may contact Head Start at 888-292-5475, Minger said.

The nonprofit is still receiving federal commodities through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute to food pantries in its service area, including one in Brookville, which is open Wednesday mornings, reports family services coordinator Carol Parcell, Aurora. When asked how the shutdown could affect pantries if it drags on, she replied, “I really can’t answer that.”

All 145 Indiana WIC (Women, Infants, Children nutrition assistance program for low-income women) clinics serving around 167,877 persons “remain fully operational,” stated the Indiana State Department of Health Web site. “All Indiana WIC-authorized retailers shall continue redeeming WIC checks.”

Gov. Mike Pence said Oct. 9, “Since Indiana has administered those programs in a responsible manner, we have funds available to continue both SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC through October and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) through November, if need be. We will assess our resources and look at options for providing those services to Hoosiers should the shutdown go on longer.”

At midnight Oct. 1, employees of the Indiana National Guard were put on furlough. Pence recounted, “On that first day of the federal shutdown, I ordered the Indiana National Guard to continue paying the 244 federally-reimbursed employees who provide support to the Guard. I consider the cost of approximately $33,000 a day a small price to pay for ensuring Indiana is prepared to handle any emergency. I am grateful that most of these employees have now been recalled to work, but we stand ready to take care of those who serve by making sure they have all the support they need.”

“Yes, veterans will be impacted by the government shutdown,” Russ Eaglin, Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs, Indianapolis, deputy director, told county service officers by e-mail Oct. 7.

Ken Hylton, the Ripley County veterans service officer, said, “The veterans have not started calling as of yet. I’m sure once they start hearing bits and pieces about certain departments, I’ll be receiving calls about their concerns.”

He added, “I will continue to submit the claims as long as the veterans keep coming in ... I’m sure this shutdown will add to the backlog of veterans’ claims.”

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Field Guide to Government Shutdown, updated Oct. 1, noted, “All VA medical facilities and clinics will remain fully operational, including inpatient care, outpatient care, prescriptions, surgeries, dental treatment, extended care, mental health care, nursing home care, special health care services for women veterans and vet centers.”

“Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted.”

If appropriations lapse, some VA call centers and hotlines will cease to function. Other services will be affected if dollars vanish: No decisions on claims appeals or motions will be issued. Hiring of veteran job applicants will cease with the exception of the Veterans Health Administration. Interments at national cemeteries will be conducted on a reduced schedule. Overseas military coordinator operations will be suspended.

Hoosiers who like to get back to nature and enjoy viewing autumn leaves may have to be more choosy about where they go. No one answers the phone at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, Madison. The automated message stated, “We are out of the office due to the current lapse of federal appropriations .... The refuge is closed to all activities, including hunting ...”

According to the governor, “Hoosiers will be glad to know that Indiana has the resources to weather this shutdown and mitigate the impact on our people and our economy.”

To end the government stoppage, Hylton pointed out, “It’s up to our representatives to come up with an agreement. As citizens, it’s up to each and every one of us to make contact with our representatives to let them know how we feel. The ladies and gentlemen in Washington, D.C., are working for us and our benefits. They need to listen to their constituents.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.