The Smart Money: What does the federal shutdown mean for Maine?

Posted Tuesday, October 1, 2013 in Analysis

The Smart Money: What does the federal shutdown mean for Maine?

by Gina Hamilton

It's Yosemite's 123rd birthday today, and the park is closed.  Not by fire, but because Congress failed to do the one thing it is mandated to do in the Constitution - pass a budget, or at least a continuing resolution to keep money flowing through the government.

All other national parks, including our Acadia, and all national monuments and museums are also closed.

But that's not all.  All non-essential goverment employees have been furloughed, that is, laid off, and they may not be paid for the time they were out of work.  Since federal government is the largest employer, this is a severe and painful hit to an economy that is only just beginning to grow.

Given the situation, it could be argued that perhaps those in Congress should be identified as "non-essential", as well.

However, they aren't, and in theory, they're looking for an exit strategy.  The shutdown came about at midnight on Tuesday morning, after the Senate sent the House a clean continuing resolution (CR) to continue funding the government in the absence of an actual budget, and the House added language that would have stripped funding for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is sometimes called "Obamacare".  The Senate voted down the House bill, stripped the ACA language and sent it back.  And the bill ping-ponged back and for several days, until finally, the House asked for a conference committee to be formed late on Monday night.  The Senate said it welcomed a committee on the budget, but only after the clean CR was passed.

A conference committee would have tried to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the continuing resolution in some kind of compromise.  Senate Democrats say that they've compromised enough on the issue of the ACA, and won't change it.

And ironically, the exchanges are already funded and are operational as of Tuesday morning.  It is one thing that the shutdown did not touch.

So here, in brief, is how the failure of Congress to pass a continuing resolution will affect Maine:

Social Security—Benefits do not go through the appropriations process, so they will continue being deposited in accounts or mailed to homes. However, Social Security offices will be open with limited staff. They will continue to take applications for benefits and appeals, and process change of address and change of banking deposit information. Other services, such as requests for yearly statements, won't be processed. Social Security hearings already scheduled will take place, but new hearings will not be scheduled.

Medicare—Benefits for this program are also exempt from the shutdown, so current participants should not notice any disruption, but new applications could be delayed.

Veterans—VHA hospitals such as VA Togus and Community Based Outpatient Clinics will stay open, VBA disability compensation will be paid, and the VA call center (1-800-827-1000) will be operational.  However, VBA regional office public contact services will not be available, decisions on claim appeals will not be made, and the Education Call Center will be suspended.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP gets money from the stimulus fund, which was already appropriated, so it will continue operations and eligible households will still receive monthly benefits for October.

Women Infants and Children—Although the program is technically "shut down", Maine has a contingency fund that will keep WIC offices will open and benefits distributed for the next 15 business days, which takes the program to Oct. 22. 

IRS—Walk-in IRS offices and the Taxpayer Advocate offices will be closed.

Visas and Passports—Passport operations and visa issuance overseas will continue (these services are funded by fees, not Congressional appropriations).  Embassies and consulates overseas will continue to provide American citizen services.  Some passport offices (such as Boston) are located in federal buildings that may be forced to shut down during a lapse in appropriations, due to a lack of building support services.  However, the National Passport Center in Portsmouth should remain open.

US Citizenship & Immigration Services—Local offices will be open, and immigration petitions will continue to be processed (these services are funded by fees).

Federal Courts—The federal Judiciary will remain open for business for approximately 10 business days. On or around October 15, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance. All proceedings and deadlines remain in effect as scheduled, unless otherwise advised. Case Management/Electronic Case Files will remain in operation for the electronic filing of documents with courts.

National Parks, Reserves—National Park Service sites, museums, and monuments, as well as federal wildflife reserves, will be closed.

Small Business Administration—Most services, with the exception of the disaster loan program, will be suspended.

Health Care Exchanges— The Health Care exchanges opened on time.  Visit them at www.healthcare.gov.

Federal prisons, border patrol, federal law enforcement — Guards at federal prisons and other essential law enforcement personnel are required to report to work, but may not be paid.

Funding to states for shares of transportation, education, etc. — All funding would be curtailed for the duration of the shutdown. 

USDA food inspections  —  Although most USDA programs will stop, food inspection programs will continue. 

FDA, CDC — The Food and Drug Administration will put most of its trials and hearings on hold.  The Centers for Disease Control would be unable to perform in-depth investigations of disease outbreaks during the shutdown.  They will also be unable to track measles outbreaks or seasonal flu outbreaks.

Air traffic control and the TSA — Air traffic control, safety inspectors, and TSA screeners are considered "essential", so they'll have to report to work, although they may not get paid immediately.

All of these changes will have effects throughout the economy.  Consider the town of Bar Harbor, adjacent to Acadia National Park, with a heavily tourist-dependent economy.  Without the draw of the national park, travel plans may not include a visit to the town itself.  Although summer is the highest season at Acadia, fall "leaf peeper" season is a close second.

And no one is sure how long the current unpleasantness will last.  Willie Rich, aide to Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-1), said that without new talks scheduled, the shutdown may go on for a while.  "We may be looking at weeks, rather than days or hours," he said.

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