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Shutdown ripples: National Guard members on furlough; local programs running

  • Eagle staff
  • Published Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, at 11:18 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, at 5:11 p.m.

Day 1 of the federal government shutdown spurred some concern and confusion in Kansas. Others noticed no change at all.

Some federally funded sites were open, while some members of the National Guard and civilian employees at McConnell Air Force Base were furloughed.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued this statement Tuesday: “A federal government shutdown has loomed as a possibility for some time now. We are focused on problem-solving and are taking steps to help minimize the effects of a federal government shutdown. We have built up a healthy cash reserve with more than $400 million in the bank and are actively working with our state agencies to minimize any disruptions to services. We are as prepared as we can be for it, and we expect that it will eventually be resolved.”

“No one wants a government shutdown,” U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts said in a statement Tuesday.

“I voted to keep the government open every single time. Nevertheless, Harry Reid and the Democrat leadership were unwilling to even consider these proposals and now will not work with us on a solution.

“This unfortunate event is not about a government shutdown, this is about protecting Kansans and Americans from the disastrous health care law that is damaging our economy, raising our taxes and costing people their jobs.

“We cannot let this stalemate stand. I will continue to work toward a solution.”

Here’s how the Wichita area is affected:

Schools

State and local education officials said they don’t expect to see any immediate effects, although a lengthy shutdown could affect funding for Title 1 schools, school lunch programs and special education services.

“The only thing we have been told is that immediate federal payments are not in danger,” said Craig Neuenswander, director of school finance for the Kansas Department of Education. “But we don’t know what the term ‘immediate’ means.

“We really don’t know much more than anybody else, other than there’s no need to panic just yet.”

At Maize Middle School on Tuesday, the shutdown briefly hampered Kerry Leep’s efforts to teach seventh-graders about nutrition.

Leep instructed her students to visit ChooseMyPlate.gov, an online calorie and nutrition tracker managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to track what they had eaten for the past five days. Her first-hour class completed the exercise; others who logged on later found a message that appeared on several government websites Tuesday: “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.”

Leep, a health and careers teacher, quickly changed her lesson plan. One class clicked around online to find out more about the shutdown and discussed the reasons and possible effects.

“It was like, ‘OK, I think we’re affected by the government shutdown, guys,’ ” Leep said. “It was a little unexpected.”

Head Start

Wichita-area Head Start and Early Head Start programs will continue operating, officials said Tuesday.

Because local programs are on a funding cycle that begins May 1, they should be unaffected by the interruption in government services, said Anne Maack, director of public affairs for Child Start, which administers the programs.

“We escaped this bullet,” Maack said. “If we had been a Head Start that had a funding cycle that started on Oct. 1, we would have to close.”

Head Start funding cycles depend on the programs’ anniversary dates, Maack said. Wichita’s is May 1, “so we are safe while others are closed.”

Dole VA Medical Center

It’s business as usual at the Dole Veterans Administration Medical Center in Wichita, its interim director said Tuesday.

“The VA is funded on a two-year cycle, and we have the money to continue operating for the year,” interim director Japhet Rivera said. “There’s really no inpatient or outpatient services that are affected by the lapse in appropriations.”

Staff members will continue to be paid, he said.

The Wichita medical center provides services to 30,000 veterans in 59 Kansas counties, according to its website. It also operates community-based outpatient clinics in Hutchinson, Salina, Parsons, Liberal, Hays and Fort Dodge.

National Guard

In Kansas, about 700 National Guard members – one-third of the full-time Guard workforce – were being furloughed Tuesday because of the shutdown, said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department. About half of those being furloughed are in Topeka; the rest are spread across the state, including some in Wichita.

The furlough means they will not be getting paid for now, but that could change if Congress decides to pay government workers retroactively for their furlough days, Watson said. On Tuesday, Guard members had to report to work and sign a letter about the furlough. The goal was to have furloughed workers leave for home by noon, she said.

Operations that involve protection of life and property will not be affected by the furlough, so those members will still be available to respond to emergencies or disasters, Watson said. Federal law spells out who may be furloughed. The furloughed staff members include administrative and maintenance workers, she said. Active-duty Guard members are not part of the furlough.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Strong City is closed because of the federal government shutdown.

An outgoing phone message at the park in the Flint Hills simply said, “The park is closed. Because of the federal government shutdown, phone messages cannot be checked until the government reopens.”

Its website said: “Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service web pages are not operating. For more information, go to www.doi.gov.”

Other popular attractions shut down include Fort Larned National Historic Site and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Sedgwick County and Wichita

Sedgwick County should be able to handle the impact of a short-term federal government shutdown, its managers told commissioners Tuesday.

William Buchanan said the county had enough money in its reserves to continue services that are paid for with grants from the federal government.

“We have a rainy day fund, and we have contingencies that are sufficient that make sure that services are delivered to those who need services,” Buchanan told The Eagle later.

Services for people who are physically and mentally challenged as well as for seniors and those who have mental illnesses will not be affected by the shutdown, he said.

He said federal money for road projects also can be covered by county funds.

“In reality, a few weeks of a federal shutdown will have little effect,” deputy chief financial officer Troy Bruun wrote in a memo to county leaders.

Bruun said the county has about 30 direct grants from the federal government worth about $11 million, 30 other federal grants that pass through the state worth $12.8 million and 10 grants partially funded by the federal and state government worth $4.6 million.

“What matters most in determining the shutdown’s impact is whether a governmental program’s funding is mandatory or discretionary,” Bruun said in the memo. “Two-thirds of the federal grants most important to state governments are considered mandatory. Generally, mandatory programs won’t be affected and discretionary programs will be.”

People who run into problems with services they receive from the federal government “may expect their state and local governments to pick up the slack,” Bruun said. “Citizens likely don’t notice or care much about the distinction between different levels of government.”

Bruun said the federal government defaulting on its debt could be a bigger threat to state and local government.

City Manager Robert Layton said officials are assessing the impact of the shutdown on Wichita and its residents and expect to present their findings to the City Council by week’s end. Layton said the city is concerned about job training and housing programs for low-income and disadvantaged residents as well as the grant programs that fund them.

McConnell Air Force Base

At McConnell Air Force Base, the government shutdown resulted in about two-thirds of the civilian workforce being sent home around noon Tuesday, Lt. Col. Dianne Ferrarini said.

The shutdown involves furloughs of about 330 of the 500 civilian employees.

“Here at McConnell, we are feeling this across the entire base,” said Ferrarini, commander of the 22nd Force Support Squadron.

As for the furloughed workers going home, she said, “That was a really tough thing to see happen.” Those who were furloughed work in a range of roles, including security, fire protection, flight line, aircraft maintenance, child care support, human resources, finances and contracting. The base library had to close its doors.

Still, despite the furloughs, the base will have adequate security and fire safety personnel, and the child care facilities remain open. Child care is a crucial service at the base, and although some of the child care administrators have been furloughed, it doesn’t affect direct care, Ferrarini said.

As for the base’s military responsibilities, she said: “Specific missions are absolutely going forward.” The base is key to refueling the Air Force. “Our tankers are still absolutely meeting their mission,” she said.

The furloughs at this point apply only to civilian employees, and those who work in safety and national security have been exempted, she said, adding that “military members have reported to duty as normal.”

The shutdown does add to the normal stress of the base’s work, “and the military lifestyle is stressful to begin with,” Ferrarini said.

Federal courts

For at least the next 10 days or so, the public should see little, if any, impact from the government shutdown on the federal court system in Kansas, said Tim O’Brien, clerk of the court for the District of Kansas.

Fee income and other funds are allowing continued operations, said O’Brien, who is based in Kansas City, Kan. Hearings and other court proceedings are occurring as scheduled, he said.

Contributing: Suzanne Perez Tobias, Deb Gruver, Tim Potter, Bill Wilson, Roy Wenzl and Julie Mah of The Eagle

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