As a political slugfest continued in Washington on Tuesday, the ripple effects of a government shutdown took hold in Northeast Georgia and across the country.
One of the more immediate effects was the closure of some parks on Lake Lanier. Other services were somewhat curtailed though not halted altogether, including the federal court in Gainesville. More serious fallout could occur if the shutdown is prolonged.
For full federal services to resume, Congress would have to approve funding for the fiscal year that began at midnight Monday. Both sides have blamed the other for the impasse that resulted when the Republican-led House of Representatives vote to fund the government included a delay in implementation of the individual mandate in President Barack Obama’s health care law and the Democratic-controlled Senate objected to that provision.
U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
Parks closed on Lake Lanier
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has shuttered recreation areas nationwide, including those dotting the shoreline of Lake Lanier.
The corps “understands the impacts that these actions will have on the American recreating public if we are required to close our recreation areas,” said Lisa Parker, corps spokeswoman with the Mobile , Ala., District, which governs Lanier.
“We know that this is a time of year when many vacationing families are using or planning to use (corps) recreation facilities, and we will reopen them for public use and enjoyment as quickly as possible once the government shutdown is lifted.”
The only campground still open on Lanier at the time of the shutdown was Sawnee in Forsyth County, and people were told to leave by 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Tim Rainey, operations project manager at Lanier.
The shutdown also affects Lanier’s 34 day-use parks, including many in Hall County.
Normally, 20 of the parks are operated year-round, according to the corps’ Lanier website.
In addition to parks, some 75 percent of local staff have been furloughed, Rainey said.
“The remainder, considered excepted, will keep the hydropower mission and water supply/quality mission functioning as normal,” he said. “Minimal park ranger staff will remain for the protection of government facilities and property.”
Emergency plan includes curtailing civil cases
Federal courts are tenuously operating as usual, under U.S. Department of Justice guidelines, although if the government does not reboot in five days, an emergency contingency plan will take effect.
Criminal casework would proceed, but civil cases would largely screech to a halt, except in emergency circumstances.
“Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an excepted activity to maintain the safety of human life and the protection of property,” according to the plan. “Civil litigation will be curtailed or postponed to the extent this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property.
As presidential appointees, U.S. attorneys are not subject to furlough, however their “headquarters support will be maintained only to the extent necessary to support current operations.”
FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION
Poultry inspections will continue
Most routine food inspections by the Food and Drug Administration will be suspended. But meat inspection, which includes poultry, is done by the Agriculture Department and will continue.
Eric O’Kelley, acting director of the Poultry Grading Office in the food safety division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, said he hasn’t seen an impact yet. The inspections are part of a federal safety program that’s administered by the state. Two federal employees who work in the plants oversee the technical side of the program. If the shutdown continues for some time, O’Kelley said there are two state supervisors who could fill those roles.
“But as of right now, we’re still on track,” he said.
The FDA will still handle high-risk recalls.
Extended shutdown could hurt lunch programs
The impact of the shutdown will be limited in local public schools, at least at first.
School breakfasts and lunches may be the first place where people see changes, as grants for those programs come through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An extended shutdown may mean reductions in the availability of free and reduced-price meals for students, though it’s not apparent how long the shutdown would need to be before those reductions would go in place.
Scott Austensen, chief financial officer with the Georgia Department of Education, wrote to district superintendents that these programs draw September funds in early October. October expenditures will be submitted for reimbursement in November.
“Unless you hear different from the Georgia DOE, please continue serving free and reduced meals,” Austensen wrote.
Free meals are available to all Gainesville students as a provision in the federal breakfast and lunch programs available to schools with high percentages of low-income students. In Hall County, students qualify for the programs based on their family’s income.
Austensen also said that Race to the Top funds are exempt from the shutdown.
US DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
Oakwood clinic still open
All U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers, including the newly opened outpatient clinic in Oakwood, will remain open.
The 18,000-square-foot Oakwood clinic is at 4175 Tanners Creek Drive, off Thurmon Tanner Parkway.
Officials said changes in VA care could occur if the shutdown is prolonged.
Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are expected to continue through late October.
However, when available funding is exhausted, claims processing and payments in these programs will be suspended, VA officials say.
Also, several services have stopped or are operating on a reduced schedule, including telephone hotlines, processing of presidential memorial certificates and burials at national cemeteries.
“In the event of a prolonged shutdown, the VA will continue to review and update its plan in conjunction with the applicable legal requirements and circumstances,” the VA states on its website.
SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
Loans will not close
Small businesses that were about to close on a loan with the Small Business Administration could be out of luck until the federal government reopens.
Banks can continue to take applications and process loan packages, but closing or getting final SBA signoff isn’t possible with the government closed, said Allan Adams, state director for the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center Network.
The SBA district office in Atlanta is closed and many of the agency’s programs are shuttered. The only two available are the disaster loan program and the Inspector General Office.
Small Business Development Centers, including the Gainesville branch of UGA’s Small Business Development Center, are open and functioning as normal, Adams said.
The centers receive about 45 percent of their funding from federal money and were funded through the end of the year. The network may start to experience financial difficulties if the shutdown continues into next year.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
Payments will continue but services limited
Social Security Administration offices are open with limited services. The federal government has assured that payments to those receiving Social Security benefits will continue.
Services that aren’t available include issuing new or replacement Social Security cards, replacing Medicare cards and providing proof of income letters. However, citizens can still get help with several items, including applying for benefits, requesting appeals and changing address and direct deposit information.
The Gainesville office is at 2565 Thompson Bridge Road. The hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., except for Wednesdays when the office closes at noon.
WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN
Health department still handing out vouchers
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, could shut down.
It provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, mothers and their children.
Hall County Health Director David Westfall said he spoke with state officials Tuesday morning about the loss of federal funding, but his office was continuing to see WIC appointments and giving food vouchers as usual.
The Georgia Department of Public Health and Georgia WIC are working on steps to keep WIC operating for as long as possible, said Nancy Nydam, media relations manager for the public health department, in an emailed statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.