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Shutdown would affect some local programs

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, April 7, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 7, 2011, at 4:32 p.m.

Disappointed children who won't get to see foster grandparents. Closed federal parks. Delayed tax refunds.

Federal money reaches far and wide. But you don't realize how far until you count the cost of it not being there.

That could happen if a budget impasse between the White House and Congress isn't resolved by midnight Friday.

A government shutdown would cause concern for nearly 18,000 federal employees in Kansas. Whether they work or not, none would get paychecks during a shutdown.

Here are other things that could be affected by a shutdown:

Foster grandparents

A foster grandparent program run by Catholic Charities Wichita could be in jeopardy.

The program connects low-income people 55 and over with at-risk children for the benefit of both, Catholic Charities executive director Cynthia Colbert said.

A shutdown would mean pulling a plug on the program effective Monday, she said. The program receives a $595,000 annual grant, but has to draw down on that amount periodically and use the money within three days.

Catholic Charities has run the federal program locally for 30 years. About 4,000 children are mentored, tutored and nurtured yearly by 109 foster grandparents in 56 educational settings, including 39 schools and eight day care sites.

Federal money pays for two staff members and a $2.65 hourly stipend for the foster grandparents.

"This is a valuable program," Colbert said. "It brings generations together and the outcomes are strong."

Even if there isn't a shutdown, the program could be chopped. One of the budget proposals would eliminate funding for foster grandparents, she said.

Passports

The U.S. Postal Service would continue to accept applications for passports during a shutdown. But it's anybody's guess as to when someone would receive their passport.

A shutdown "might lengthen the time it takes to get them back," said Ralph Brown, Wichita's acting postmaster.

Mail

The Postal Service still would deliver the mail, thanks to income from stamps. "We're self-funded," said spokesman Gerry McKiernan. "It's a normal day for us."

Schools

Kansas schools receive about $30 million a month from the federal government. The money helps fund special education, school lunches and breakfasts, migrant education and programs that help at-risk students at high-poverty schools.

A shutdown isn't likely to affect schools unless it lasts two weeks or more, said Kathy Toelkes, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

That "could create difficulties," Toelkes said, because most federal payments to schools occur at the end of the month.

Federal court

If you have a date in federal court, keep it.

The courts — civil and criminal, old and new cases —"will continue to operate in normal fashion until further notice," said Timothy O'Brien, clerk of the court for the U.S. District Courts in Kansas.

Because the court is required by the U.S. Constitution to hear and decide cases without interruption, all judges and supporting personnel will continue to work full time.

Money from fees and other sources would be used to pay for court operations, O'Brien said.

Community health

GraceMed, a public-private partnership and one of Wichita's community health clinics, might have to draw on cash reserves to meet payroll if a shutdown happens, CEO Dave Sanford said.

GraceMed receives an annual federal grant of about $700,000 to help pay employees and their benefits.

But like Catholic Charities, GraceMed doesn't receive all of the grant money up front. So every two weeks, it must go through the federal government to draw down 1/26 of that grant — or $27,000 — for payroll expenses.

In a shutdown, federal workers wouldn't process the transaction.

"We would have to borrow from cash reserves," Sanford said.

That's not a good thing when demand for services is up 30 percent and putting a drain on finances.

Sanford noted that Mike Pompeo, the freshman Republican congressman from Wichita, has said he supports community health centers. He also is among the GOP House members calling for $1.3 billion in budget cuts for those facilities.

"He supports us and understands the importance of community health," Sanford said. "But right now he's on the other side of the issue. He's not backing down, not making any exception."

Federal parks

Federal parks, including Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills, would be affected immediately by a shutdown.

"We would have to shut down Saturday," superintendent Wendy Lauritzen said. "But we honestly don't know what's going to happen. We're in a holding pattern."

The park has about 20,000 visitors each year.

Group tours are scheduled for next week. Lauritzen said she's waiting as long as possible before notifying them that the park will be closed.

Military

Troops would remain on duty, receiving IOUs rather than paychecks.

Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Pentagon will be open on Monday and will be staffed. He said decisions on which Defense Department employees must report to work will depend on their jobs, rather than where they are based.

What that means for McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita hadn't been determined Wednesday.

"We haven't received a directive," a spokeswoman said. "It's above our heads."

McConnell had 2,850 military personnel and 468 civilian employees as of 2009.

Tax filing, refunds

Federal income tax returns filed electronically would be processed. Payments would be collected. Refunds for e-filed forms would be sent automatically for direct deposit only.

But the Internal Revenue Service would not be able to process paper-filed returns. So you'd have to wait for a refund if you file a paper form.

The deadline to file remains April 18 regardless of a shutdown.

Social Security

Checks would still be sent to current beneficiaries, either through the mail or electronically. The Obama administration said final plans were still being prepared, and would not say whether the Social Security Administration would be able to handle claims for new beneficiaries.

Mortgages

The Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees about 30 percent of the nation's mortgages, would stop guaranteeing loans.

That would come at a particularly bad time because spring is the busiest home-buying season of the year.

Homeless services

A prolonged shutdown could affect federal money for homeless services provided by Wichita's Inter-Faith Ministries.

"I would say it would impact our services, but we also rely on donations," said executive director Sue Castile. The organization's homeless shelter is regularly filled to its 50-person capacity.

"I'm trying to encourage our leaders to make good decisions, see where our commonalties lie and how much we need each other."

Contributing: Suzanne Tobias of The Eagle, McClatchy Newspapers and Associated Press Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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