Although there have been several major issues related to the Federal
Shutdown, most Big Spring residents won't see a huge effect in the
short-term from the furloughs.
"Nonessential" military contractors, and other
government employees, are on involuntary furlough. Most of those employees
are still waiting at home for a resolution from Congress. While many federal
benefits as well as postal service will continue, national parks, federal
courts and the U.S. Marshals Service are among the agencies that are either
operating without pay or have shut down altogether.
shutdown has also affected the Affordable Care Act’s implementation. Texas,
and other states, do not have reliable online markets available at
this time. Issues cropped up on the first day it went online, and with the
shutdown they are not able to be immediately addressed. Many people
attempting to access the online marketplaces encounter errors that make the
online resource unusable. The government is
recommending that people interested in the healthcare markets sign up via
phone, or paper applications. Once the shutdown is ended, full services are
expected to resume quickly.
Hospital has issued a press release stating that they will be able to
continue offering full services for now. However, claims processers will no
longer be eligible for overtime, and interments through the National
Cemetery Administration will be on a reduced schedule. The VA operates off
of a government appropriation that is funded two years in advance, regular
services should be safe through to 2014.
shutdown is affecting Veteran’s Affairs federal offices, though.
Although the VA hospital in Big Spring is still fully-staffed with medical
personnel and has funding to last through next year, the federal offices of
the VA have been furloughed. Tuesday, approximately 15 thousand of the VA’s
nationwide employees, about 5% of the organization overall, were furloughed.
In addition, payments to veterans are dangerously close to grinding to a
halt. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki says that compensation payments to almost
four-million veterans won’t go out next month, if the shutdown continues.
This includes thousands of veterans with the most severe disabilities. Also,
pension payments for almost 315,000 low-income veterans will stop. He is
testifying before the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee to explain the
effects on VA. Veterans and family members who need information can see the
VA’s Appropriation’s Lapse Plan, and a Field Guide for dealing with the
shutdown at the Veteran’s Affairs website, VA.gov
Federal Correctional Institute in Big Spring remains open through the
government shutdown. Although officials at the prison refused to comment to
KBST news, the Department of Justice's Contingency plan lays out information
for how prisons operate during a lapse in appropriations. Since employees
are responsible for the care and imprisonment of inmates, the government
considers their jobs “excepted” from the national furlough. This means that
they continue to work, as normal, and are guaranteed to be paid for this
period once the shutdown has ended. However, if the shutdown lasts too long,
their regular checks could be delayed. As it stands, the facility should be
fully-staffed and is expected to weather the shutdown without incident.
Infants, and Children are being affected, as the federally-funded WIC
program struggles nationwide to continue operating. Although WIC is
implemented statewide, and is not currently on furlough, the program’s
budgets are funded through congressional appropriations. Several states are
already having to cut back on WIC services, and if the shutdown continues
for too long, Texas might become one of them. Thanks to reserves built into
Texas’ program, WIC services within the state are still fully operational.
However, millions of women have stopped going to their local offices due to
the shutdown. For the moment, women in Howard County shouldn’t have any
problems receiving normal WIC support. WIC is not expected to have any
issues in the immediate future within Texas, the state’s reserves for the
program are deep enough to handle operations for weeks, even if the Federal
government institution not feeling the effects is, of course, our Postal
Service. Neither snow, nor rain, heat, nor government shutdown seems to stay
those couriers from their appointed rounds. Although overseen by the Federal
Government, the United States Post Office is considered to be a distinct
business. Therefore, the shutdown has had almost no effect on the USPS. No
employees have been furloughed, and mail service has continued unabated.
They’ve continued taking in revenue and paying out wages without so much as
a hiccup. No matter how long the shutdown lasts, the postal service is
expected to be completely unaffected by the government freeze.
now, schools in Howard County aren’t feeling major effects. Most federal
services provided to schools are funded a year in advance, meaning that
schools are not hurting yet from the shutdown. However, one program that got
the axe when the furlough began was the Head Start program. Designed to
assist young children in low-income families, Head Start closed down with
several other federal programs when the shutdown began. However, two Texas
Philanthropists donated ten million dollars earlier this week to reopen the
program. Laura and John Arnold made a personal donation to keep the program
funded, allowing for Head Start to continue through the shutdown.
Although Military servicemen and women still work throughout the partial
shutdown, an outcry went out when it was revealed that family death benefits
were part of the furloughed measures. Whenever a service member is killed in
the line of action, the family usually receives $100,000, to help with the
cost of funeral and grave services, and to help carry the family through the
difficult period. Congress was able to pass a quick measure to reinstate
those benefits, meaning that Howard County military families can take solace
in the fact that even if the unimaginable happens, they will have that small
measure of support available to them.
federal agency hit hard by the shutdown is the Environmental Protection
Agency. Less than 5% of the employees of the EPA are “Excepted” from the
national furlough, and as a result almost every function of the EPA has shut
down. Not only does this affect the possibility of response to a major
environmental disaster, it also bodes ill for major projects, nationwide.
Large construction projects, much like Big Spring’s intended new landfill,
or Midland International Airport’s Spaceport Designation, are required to
prepare an Environmental Assessment, or an Environmental Impact Statement to
submit to the EPA before construction can be approved. While the shutdown
continues, EAs and EISes nationwide are on hold, unable to be processed with
the EPA’s limited amounts of manpower. And, even when the shutdown ends, the
backlog from the weeks of dormancy could mean even more delays for large
construction projects. Currently, very little in Howard County is expected
to be directly affected by the furlough of the EPA. But, as the shutdown
continues, this very well could change.
industry which was ht surprisingly hard was Real Estate. We got in touch
with Sherri Key, of United Country Heart of the City Realtors, to talk about
some of the effects the shutdown has had on Real Estate.
She explained that due to furloughs striking the
USDA, SBA, and most importantly the IRS, loan approvals have all but shut
down in Big Spring. The housing market in Howard County has slowed
considerably, and every day the shutdown continues just makes it worse.