Government shutdown touches some operations
By JEAN L. KAESS
While Democrats and Republicans blame each other in Washington, some services are being affected or are threatened in St. Mary Parish.
Nationally, some 800,000 federal workers are off the job because of the partial government shutdown as a protracted dispute over President Barack Obama’s signature health care law reached the boiling point. This is the first shutdown in nearly two decades.
Locally, Lt. Sandy Carmine, public information officer for Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Morgan City, said there was no change in services.
“All of our operations are still going … We’re still doing search and rescue and anything having to do with our mission (has) not been impacted in any way,” Carmine said.
The Veterans Administration in St. Mary Parish has remained unaffected as well, according to that office.
The Associated Press reported that the military will be paid under legislation freshly signed by Obama, but paychecks for other federal workers will be withheld until the impasse is broken.
Federal workers were told to report to their jobs for a half-day today but to perform only shutdown tasks like changing email greetings and closing down agencies’ Internet sites. But after that, they were under strict orders to do no work, even check their email.
The self-funded Postal Service will continue to operate and the government will continue to pay Social Security benefits, and Medicare and Medicaid fees to doctors on time.
St. Mary Parish Homeland Security Director Duval Arthur said his office is not feeling effects of the shutdown at this time. His office operates off federal funds and grants but is up-to-date, Arthur said.
The office is not affected right now, but could be in 90 days. Police and fire departments needing equipment could be affected.
Also in an uncertain situation are the services offered by the St. Mary Community Action Agency and Head Start centers.
Almetra Franklin, CEO of Community Action Agency, said the regional Head Start office is closed with all of its employees on furlough.
She has been calling Washington, D.C., this morning to find out what to expect. Being funded through the Department of Health and Hospitals, Franklin said that without a continuing resolution she isn’t sure if her office will have the funds to keep operating.
Medical transportation for the poor, such as those who need to get to dialysis and meals for children are in jeopardy of being closed, Franklin said.
“As of this morning, all services are functioning. We don’t know the future,” Franklin said.
On the Social Security website, a statement was issued:
“Due to the federal government shutdown, Social Security field offices are open with limited services. Hearings offices remain open to conduct hearings before an administrative law judge. Social Security card centers are closed,” according to the statement.
The local office is not a card center.
“Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments to beneficiaries will continue with no change in payment dates,” the website states.
Online services will remain open.
The parish’s U.S. Department of Agriculture service center, which includes the Farm Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, is closed with employees on furlough.
The Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge is closed to all public entry due to the government shut down, according to Paul Yakupzack, refuge manager for the Mandalay/Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuges.
Meanwhile, Ken Holder, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, said the local locks will remain open and manned with a limited staff.
As of right now, everything is pretty much running as normal,” Holder said.