Government shutdown ripples over W.Pa.
By David Conti, R.A. Monti, Tom Yerace and Chuck Biedka
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 1:16 a.m.
Ships moved through locks and dams on the three rivers on Tuesday, passengers got their pat-downs in airport security lines and defendants had their day in federal court in Pittsburgh.
Federal agencies maintained what they consider critical government services in Western Pennsylvania while furloughing an unknown number of nonessential employees and curtailing some normal services on the federal government shutdown's first day.
For example, citizens couldn't get a new Social Security card, but field office employees at the Social Security Administration kept working, enabling the agency to offer limited services.
But folks who want to enjoy the last warm days of the year at Crooked Creek Park near Ford City are out of luck.
Crooked Creek Park has closed its recreation areas due to the federal government's partial shutdown, said park ranger Rick Mack. The park is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.
It's just one of the inconveniences occurring in the Alle-Kiski Valley that comes as a result of the partial shutdown, as Congress failed to pass a budget for the fiscal year that started Tuesday.
“No one can come back until something's done in Congress,” Mack said. “We got orders to close everything down.”
Mack said three of the park's seven employees have been furloughed as a result.
Anyone trying to obtain a federal loan might have to wait, too.
Carmen Johnson, the assistant director in the Armstrong County Department of Planning and Development, said loans such as those obtained through the U.S. Department of Agriculture might have to wait.
“We haven't heard anything yet,” she said. “But we do draw funds from the USDA, and they are going to be affected.”
Johnson said the planning department's other programs shouldn't see any immediate cuts.
“We draw most of our money from the Treasury Department,” she said. “They haven't seen any cuts yet.
“If this keeps going longer, we might.”
Johnson said if the shutdown stretches on too long, it could also affect Community Development Block Grants.
“If the state doesn't know how much money it will be getting next year, applications can't be processed, and they'll back up,” she said. The state receives the federal CDBG money and funnels it to county and local governments.
As for the locks and dams along the Allegheny River, there appears to be no immediate effect.
“The shutdown really hasn't affected us,” said Glen, an assistant lockmaster at Lock No. 3 in Barking, Plum, who declined to give his last name.
The effect the shutdown could have on the schools might be felt if it is prolonged.
Jon Rupert, business manager for Highlands School District, said the district receives federal money for programs such as Title I reading.
“A lot of the federal payments are paid six months to a year behind, but we've always had enough flexibility to cover that,” Rupert said. “Our cash flow is pretty strong, so we should be all right.”
Cafeteria operations are another area that could be affected since most public schools receive federal food subsidies. In Highlands' case, Rupert said the federal aid is only about 10 percent of the cafeteria budget, but it still amounts to about $100,000.
“It will definitely hit us if it (shutdown) stays out there,” he said, “but we'll be all right for a while.”
The Alle-Kiski HOPE Center in Tarentum and HAVIN in Kittanning serve thousands of abused people in the Alle-Kiski Valley in their shelters and through their programs.
Some of their funding comes from the federal government through the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The shutdown's first day prompted dozens of questions for the coalition's executive director, Margaret J. Dierkers.
“We're trying to draw down our money from the federal government,” Dierkers said. “We've been told we won't be able to do that at the end of the week because the federal staffers will be furloughed by then if the shutdown continues.“We will have to wait and see what the state is willing to do,” Dierkers said.
Gov. Tom Corbett's press secretary, Jay Pagni, said it's too early to tell what the state might be able to do.
The governor has directed state planners to contact federal counterparts to determine need, funding streams and impact on state residents.
“There's a lot of fluidity in the situation and a lot of complexity,” said Pagni, who was just named to his job Tuesday.
Some state pass-through programs are on a reimbursement basis. Others provide funding sooner.
The Coalition helps The Hope Center, HAVIN and 58 other shelters as well as a myriad of educational programs.The HOPE Center serves about 3,500 directly and about 200 in its shelter. About 10,000 others receive legal advocacy and domestic violence prevention education in schools, said executive director Michelle G. Bond.
“Prevention programs would be cut first,” she said.
“There is still so much we don't know yet,” said HAVIN executive director Jo Ellen Bowman. “If this is prolonged, it will have an impact.”
Bond and Bowman said both programs and shelters are running on tight budgets. Each agency has some money and a line of credit but they can't use any grant money to pay for interest on loans.
“We won't shut down,” Bowman said. “We have a line of credit, but that will cost us. ... I hope this is short term.”
Most disadvantaged families in the Alle-Kiski Valley are served by programs offered by Family Services of Western Pennsylvania.
Most of its programs rely on Medicare or Medicaid funding, and therefore remain untouched by the shutdown thus far.
“From what I understand, that funding is exempted,” said Donald H. Goughler, Family Services executive director.
Although some of the Family Services programs rely on Housing and Urban Development monies subject to the funding freeze, money has already been set aside for some group homes under construction, such as one in Allegheny Township, That facility is for about three developmentally disabled adults. “It probably will be done in about two months.” he said.The shutdown isn't impacting the Pittsburgh offices of the U.S. Marshal's service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, which routinely work in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Federal court was open Tuesday but U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Margaret Philbin and a number of assistant U.S. attorneys were furloughed, said acting spokesman Leo Dillon, an assistant U.S. attorney.
Even so, business continued.“We have a drug trial starting (Tuesday),” Dillon said.
David Conti, R.A. Monti, Tom Yerace and Chuck Biedka are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Comments regarding this story should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-226-4666.
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