FEDERAL BUDGET: Military, others brace for shutdown

Staff reports Updated: April 7, 2011 at 12:00 am • Published: April 7, 2011

A federal government shutdown could put 5,000 federal civilian workers in the Pikes Peak region on furlough, delay contracts and shut down small business loans.

Institutions and programs, like schools, food banks and unemployment benefits, wouldn’t show an impact unless the shutdown was lengthy.

MILITARY

Thousands of civilian workers from the region’s military bases would be furloughed. Those in uniform could miss a paycheck, but they must show up for work and have been promised they’d get back pay. Wars and other operations would continue.

The Defense Department's online Leave and Earnings Statment system was already showing that military personnel would get only half of their next paycheck on April 15, which likely reflects pay for this week and no pay for next week.

“The DoD (Defense Department) will continue to conduct activities in support of our national security, including operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Japan; Libya-related support operations; and other operations and activities essential to the security of our nation,” Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said in a statement.

Workers facing furlough would have to turn in their government-issued cellular phones while awaiting the call back to work.

At Peterson Air Force Base, nearly half of the 5,325 civilian workers — 2,659 — will be furloughed starting at 10:01 p.m. and the base museum and photography, videography, public address and graphics operations would be shut down, while services would be reduced to the base contracting, tax center, protocol and finance operations, which handle military and civilian pay, said Lt. Holly Hess, chief of public affiars for the 21st Space Wing at Peterson.

At Fort Carson, garrison commander Col. Robert McLaughlin said civilian workers considered essential will stay on the job, but many, if not most, would stay home. He said Friday that 400 of the 2,00 civilian workers under his control would be furloughed starting Saturday if a shutodown happens. All would receive written notice of the furlough when they report for work after any shutdown. Additional furloughs were still under consideration by commanders at Evans Army Hospital and Fort Carson's Mission Support Element, which employ another 4,000 civilians, he said.

Self-supporting operations like fitness and child care centers, golf courses, commissary and post exchange all would remain open during a federal government shutdown, as would police, fire and essential medical services. Fast-food vendors, barber shops, gas stations and other services would remain open at local bases.

At the Air Force Academy, 350 civilian professors — half the teaching staff — would be furloughed, but classes would not be canceled, said spokesman John Van Winkle.

The Pentagon said military retirees would be paid and medical benefits would be untouched.

Contracts authorized in the 2010 budget would remain in effect and that money would keep flowing.

But new contracts are on hold.

At the academy, construction contracts for a Center for Character and Leadership Development can’t be issued until a budget is passed.  

ITT Mission Systems, a military and federal agency contractor based in Colorado Springs that provides logistics and support services to installations worldwide, doesn’t expect a significant impact on business, said George Rhynedance, a spokesman for the ITT Corp. unit.

The shutdown could hit as military and government leaders gather with aerospace industry executives in Colorado Springs for the four-day National Space Symposium next week.

Janet Stevens, a spokeswoman for the Space Foundation, which organizes the event, said she’s worried that federal workers expected to attend would be on furlough.

But a production as large as the Space Symposium won’t be stopped.

“At this point, the investment has been made,” Stevens said of the symposium, which is expected to draw 9,000 people to The Broadmoor.

- Tom Roeder

EL PASO COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES

Almost every program administered through the DHS — food stamps, Medicaid, child protection services, foster care, and child support collections, to name a few — gets some degree of federal funding, says director Rick Bengtssen.  

But he doesn’t see any disruption for April for people enrolled in the major safety net programs, such as food stamps and Temporary Aid for Needy Families.

“The good thing for April, most of our public assistance benefits have gone out already. At this point, we don’t see an immediate impact short-term.”

And there’s been no word on Medicaid. “We just need to see what happens.”

- Barbara Cotter

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

Bill Thoennes, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said the unemployment benefits for out of work Coloradans would not be affected — at least through June.

In fact, he said, the unemployed would likely get some company: The roughly 40,000 federal workers in the state who would be furloughed would be eligible for unemployment benefits. Many of those workers are already calling the department, Thoennes said.
 
Thoennes said the department will post a link on its website (colorado.gov/cdle) for federal workers. He added that the Unemployment Insurance program’s phone lines have been stretched thin since the recession started, so he urged federal workers applying for benefits to use the website.

And what happens if a shutdown were to last into June and beyond? Thoennes said he doesn’t know - the U.S. Department of Labor has pledged funds only that far out.

- Andy Wineke

CARE AND SHARE FOOD BANK OF SOUTHERN COLORADO

Care and Share administers two USDA programs: the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides monthly supplies of staples to people who qualify by income, and the Commodities Supplemental Food Program, which is basically the same program for seniors.

Care and Share administers it for El Paso County, and has a contract with the state to deliver the commodities foods throughout Southern Colorado. The two programs represent about 20 percent of Care & Share’s distributions.

Clients receive a commodities card good for a year, then go to a distribution site near them for a monthly supply of staples such as pasta, peanut butter, cereal, frozen meats and cheese.

Care and Share Chief Operating Officer Lori Kapu worries that if USDA isn’t considered “mission-critical,” deliveries of the commodities food might be affected. “If the truckloads do not come in, it just means less food for folks who are seeking assistance.”

Care and Share also files for reimbursement from the USDA for administering the program, and Kapu says it might not get its reimbursement.

Charles Rice, Care and Share’s chief development officer, says the agency receives about $50,000 annually through FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter program, and the agency usually has heard by now whether the money will come through.

“If the government shuts down, it will further delay knowing whether we have the funding. It’s budget season for us; we’re trying to determine whether we’re going to get those FEMA grants. With a shutdown, it will be hard for us to plan.”

Kapu also worries that demand for assistance could go up, even as supplies are curtailed.

NOTE:  If the government shuts down, Care and Share will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for a two-day food drive to make up for the potential shortfall. Donations will be taken at the Care and Share warehouse, 2605 Preamble Point, a few blocks east of the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue.

- Barbara Cotter

PEAK VISTA

Peak Vista Community Health Centers relies on federal programs in a number of ways, including grants and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

“Short-term, there will be minimal effect,” spokeswoman Lynn Pelz said. “Long-term, it would affect our resources, which could include funding. But we don’t really know what will happen.”

- Barbara Cotter

UNITED WAY

“We are taking some precautions not only here locally but nationwide with our 2-1-1 services because we anticipate that if the government does shut down, there could be a spike in calls from people asking about Social Security disability checks, unemployment insurance  — those kinds of things,” said J.D. Dallager, president and CEO of Pikes Peak United Way.

- Barbara Cotter

NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LAND

All national parks and monuments would be closed.

“We’ll have a few people on patrol to protect life and property, but the gate will be closed,” said Patrick Myers, a ranger at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Backcountry trails and entrances without gates, such as Sand Dune’s Liberty Gate south of Crestone, will remain open, but visitors should not expect any services.

People will have access to public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, but offices of both agencies would be closed.

- Dave Philipps

LAW ENFORCEMENT

All activities involving automated federal databases, such as criminal background checks, would not be affected. Every public safety function of the government will continue.  

Sgt. Steve Noblitt said a federal government shutdown would not affect the Colorado Springs Police Department.

- Matt Steiner

EDUCATION

Public schools receive federal grants, but most payments are current, officials said.

Harrison School District 2 receives thousands of dollars in federal grants, said Kevin Smelker, assistant superintendent of support services. “We get reimbursed periodically.

"It’s not going to impact us if it is a short period,” he said. “We wouldn’t have to worry until May or June.”

The Community Partnership for Child Development receives $9.5 million in federal and stimulus money for programs serving more than 1,200 local pre-kindergarten children.

Nancy Steedman, chief financial officer for the group, which runs Head Start programs, said the money comes in installments and the final $3 million is supposed to come before the end of the school year.

“We did an analysis and we can survive through the end of June, which gets us through the school year,” she said. They also have a line of credit as a backstop.

- Carol McGraw

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation projects in the area wouldn’t be impacted for at least a few weeks, said Jason Wilkinson, spokesman for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which relies on sales tax revenue to fund road maintenance and construction projects.

“What we’d be doing is figuring out who isn’t returning phone calls or e-mails, and that’s where we could really start telling where or how we’d be affected,” he said.

- Debbie Kelley

COURTS

Federal Courts in Colorado will remain open.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Chief Judge Wiley Y. Daniel issued an order saying that all work done by court employees and judicial officers is “essential to address the court’s constitutional duty to hear and decide cases without interruption.”

- John Ensslin

SMALL BUSINESSES

Wells Fargo will continue to take and process applications for loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, but would not be able to fund the loans without a loan number from the agency, which the banking giant doesn’t expect to be able to get, said Steve Sexson, vice president and regional sales manager for Wells Fargo’s SBA lending operations in Denver.

“While there are (legitimate) issues on both sides, at the end of the day it is disappointing because small businesses will pay the price” from any shutdown, he said. “We are trying to get as many loans started with SBA loan numbers as we can before Friday night.”

Greg Lopez, SBA’s Colorado district director in Denver, said any shutdown wouldn’t occur until Monday and staff would do “all we can to give specific guidance to lenders, borrowers and the public” with a skeleton staff if a shutdown happens.

- Wayne Heilman

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