By Curt Peterson, Standard Correspondent
On Monday afternoon analysts were saying the partial government shutdown that began midnight Friday might continue for some time. On Monday evening Senate Republicans and Democrats had passed a Continuing Resolution to bring furloughed employees back and keep government doors open until February 8.
The major parties have promised to negotiate a meaningful immigration policy, specifically the DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – allowing quasi-legal presence for up to 700,000 people brought into the U.S. illegally as children, which President Trump said in September he will not renew and is set to expire in March.
The realities of an extended shutdown would affect local Vermonters more than immigration issues, politics or assigning blame.
Governor Phil Scott’s spokesperson Rebecca Kelley says the state is prepared for a shutdown – on Friday the governor had asked all agencies and departments to collect funds due them from federal sources.
“The Department for Children and Families confirmed financial benefits for Vermont’s most vulnerable will be safe in the event of a short-term Federal government shutdown,” the statement said. “These benefits include Reach Up, 3Squares benefits, fuel assistance, general assistance, and child care assistance.”
Congressman Peter Welch added his remarks to a list of shutdown facts provided on the Vermont Public Radio website.
Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and delivery of Social Security checks would be unaffected, although there might be administrative slowdowns in signing up for these programs. Welch said a protracted shutdown could result in delayed payments to physicians.
Patients of the Veterans Administration Hospital in White River could breathe easy – the VA is “pre-funded” and almost all employees are exempted from furlough. New applications and claims, however, might be slowed in an extended shutdown, Welch said, and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals may not be active.
Travelers needn’t worry – Transportation Security Agency employees and air controllers would all work, Welch said, and AMTRAK rail service would continue unabated.
Welch said most Department of Education employees would be furloughed, but student financial aid staff would continue to deliver funding.
Meat producers needing U. S. Department of Agriculture certification to resell their products in retail stores would be OK.
“As far as inspections here are concerned, it is business as usual,” Jake Henne, a Green Mountain Smokehouse owner, said. “I do know the inspectors at our level are expected to work through these shutdowns even though they are not getting paid. They will get compensated eventually, but it seems like an awful hardship for the USDA inspectors. You know their creditors are expecting them to pay their bills on time.”
Over 45,000 workers were furloughed at the Internal Revenue Serivce, slowing tax return processing. Many Vermonters are hoping for speedy tax refunds.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which subsidizes healthcare for 9 million children nationwide, holds enough funds to continue for a short time, according to a Boston Globe report.
Trainees in the Vermont National Guard would not report for their weekend exercises until a shutdown is over.
Real estate transactions are a large part of our local economy. Norm Frates, mortgage loan officer with Mascoma Savings Bank, forwarded a memo distributed
to all member banks by American Banking Association president and CEO Rob Nichols Jan. 20.
“The Small Business Administration, Federal Housing Administration and others with lending programs funded by the federal government will likely be at least partially closed,” the memo said. “That means loans requiring those offices’ approval may not be processed.”
“Verification resources from certain government agencies, such as tax transcripts from [the Internal Revenue Service], may not be available,” Nichols’s memo said. “This could mean delays in mortgage loan approvals and, if [a] shutdown is protracted, could eventually affect closing dates.”
Financing properties in flood zones requires insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. “[NFIP’s] funding is tied to the continuing resolution that has stalled in Congress,” Nichols wrote. “That means the authority of [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to issue flood insurance policies under NFIP [would] lapse during [a] shutdown.”
The National Parks would also be affected.
According to a statement posted by spokesperson Heather Swift on the Department of Interior website, “National Parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible. Services that require staffing and maintenance, such as campgrounds, full-service restrooms and concessions won’t be operating. Backcountry lands and culturally sensitive sites are likely to be restricted or closed.”
According to the National Park Service website, during a shutdown. “Some parks in the National Park System may have areas that remain accessible to visitors, however access may change without notice, and some parks [would be] closed completely.”
This week, Christina Marts, the deputy superintendent of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, said following the three-day shutdown: “We are thankful to be able to resume our regular operations. We appreciate the generosity of our various partners who stepped up to support the park over the last few days. Our employees are happy to be back at work, serving the American people.”
Marts also explained, “During this shutdown, NPS contingency plan guidance directed all national parks to remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. Effectively, this did not represent a significant change from typical winter trail access at the park under previous government shutdowns because Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP has a unique management arrangement for winter recreation. When the park was first created in 1992, Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller established a deed on nearly all of the park’s carriage roads and trails that is held by the Woodstock Resort Corporation/Woodstock Inn (WRC). The deed allows the WRC the exclusive right to manage the park carriage roads and trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, including grooming, charging for passes, and establishing rules and guidelines for trail use. In the event of a government shutdown, the WRC’s right to manage the trails for this use is not impacted.”
This article first appeared in the January 25, 2018 edition of the Vermont Standard.