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Local impact of federal government shutdown minimal - so far
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A sign on the door of the USDA Service Center on East Crescent Drive tells visitors their office are closed due to the U.S. Government shutdown. - photo by Scott Rogers

The trickle-down impact of the partial federal government shutdown has only materialized in a few places across Hall County.

But the prolonged closure of several government agencies promises additional consequences should the shutdown extend into February.

For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has already closed its service center offices, including its location in Gainesville, which assist local farmers through its loan program.

At the University of North Georgia, no programs have been stopped by the shutdown, “but there are some research projects and programs that receive funding from federal sources that have been delayed due to the furloughs,” said spokeswoman Sylvia Carson.

The shutdown is already the longest of its kind in history. The previous record was 21 days during the Bill Clinton administration in the mid-1990s.  

Nine of the 15 cabinet-level departments within the federal government have not been funded, including Agriculture, Homeland Security, State, Transportation, Interior and Justice. Some iconic National Park facilities are shuttered, as are the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo in Washington. Nearly everyone at NASA is being told to stay home.

But agencies like Education, Health and Human Services, and the Labor Department, for example, already have budgets for the current fiscal year.

That means things like Medicaid and Social Security payments won’t be interrupted, and workforce training programs will continue unimpeded. Federal funding for K-12 education is also secure, and services for military veterans are not hindered.

Approximately 420,000 federal employees (of about 800,000 affected by the shutdown) whose work is declared essential are working without pay, including at the FBI and other federal law enforcement offices.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Georgians make up about 4 percent of the federal workforce, about 71,000 employees in all. 

An estimated 16,000 Georgians are currently furloughed or working without pay, according to Governing Magazine.  

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-GA, have said they will not accept their legislative salaries during the shutdown, which had already been appropriated by Congress.



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The U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center on East Crescent Drive are closed due to the U.S. Government shutdown. A sign tells visitors the Natural Resources Conservation Service is still open. - photo by Scott Rogers

A political fight rages on 

The White House shifted tactics this week, trying to bypass House Speaker Democrat Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with rank-and-file lawmakers even as President Donald Trump dug in for a prolonged shutdown.

The House and Senate announced they would stay in session, canceling an upcoming recess week at home if the shutdown continued, which seemed likely.

On the shutdown’s 25th day (Tuesday), Trump did not move off his demand to have Congress provide $5.7 billion to build his promised border wall with Mexico.

Democrats say they will discuss border security once the government has reopened, but Pelosi is refusing money for the wall they view as ineffective and immoral.

The president, on a conference call with supporters, showed no signs of backing down.

“We’re going to stay out for a long time, if we have to,” Trump said. “We’ll be out for a long time.”

But the administration and its allies on Capitol Hill are warily eyeing the next payday, hoping to reach a resolution before Tuesday, when the next round of paychecks are supposed to be prepared.

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Brandy Palmero, manager of the Meals on Wheels and Senior Life Center programs, leaves her car to distribute food during a Meals on Wheels delivery in Gainesville. Programs like Meals on Wheels, public transportation and the Senior Life Center could be affected if the shutdown continues. - photo by David Barnes

Here at home

First, the good news. 

Gainesville and Hall County Schools have not seen major impacts. Nor has local law enforcement. And the Army Corps of Engineers remains funded for its work managing Lake Lanier. 

Now, the bad news. 

Federal workers across the state are struggling to pay bills and cover basic expenses. 

Federal courts, including the Northern District of Georgia, for example, initially had funds to support operations through Jan. 18, but its employees may soon be working without pay.

And the closing of government agencies and services is where the impact strikes communities. 

Lower-income individuals and families across Gainesville and Hall County may be among the first to see the impacts if the shutdown continues. 

Food stamps, which support 1.5 million Georgians, are currently funded only through February. 

Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, said programs like Meals on Wheels, public transportation and the Senior Life Center could be affected if the shutdown continues because it would delay processing and funding grant applications.

Meanwhile, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has closed its local field office, though Gainesville Housing Authority Executive Director Beth Brown said the impacts in Hall County are muted, thus far. 

“Housing authority employees are not HUD employees so we are not affected,” Brown said. “If we were to have questions, need guidance, approvals, etc., we would be on hold. Agencies with a Section 8 program are more affected by the shutdown. Nothing is affecting our residents for the time being.”

Brown said that industry groups expect public housing authorities across the nation should continue to receive their monthly subsidies since it is automated. 

“If we were not to receive funding, we can rely on our reserves for a few months,” Brown added. 

Meanwhile, local government is seeing similar hang-ups resulting from the shutdown. 

For example, the e-verify network, which checks the citizenship status of a potential new hire, is currently unavailable to governments, as well as private business. 

Hall County government spokeswoman Katie Crumley said that an application for work to open and improve access to Tadmore Park, and remove sections from a conservation covenant, is currently delayed because it requires approval from federal authorities.

 

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This May 9, 2016, file photo, shows an air traffic control tower at their gates at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

Not-so-friendly skies

Air travelers have seen some of the biggest impacts, with security-line waits in the hours at Hartsfield this week, apparently caused by a rising number of security officers calling in sick while they are not getting paid.

About 10,000 air traffic controllers who work for the Federal Aviation Administration, about 51,000 Transportation Security Administration officers, and an undisclosed number of federal air marshals have been told to keep reporting to work because they are deemed essential.

An early test of the air traffic system could come around the Feb. 3 Super Bowl in Atlanta, when an influx of corporate jets and private planes will further crowd the sky above the nation’s busiest airport.

Federal aviation safety inspectors, meanwhile, are not deemed essential, but FAA spokesman Gregory Martin said the agency is recalling inspectors for certain jobs.

The National Transportation Safety Board is delaying accident investigations and hearings. And U.S. Customs and Border Protection has closed many centers where people apply for Global Entry, a program that lets travelers get expedited clearance into the U.S. It is not clear if any applications are being processed; spokespeople at the agency did not respond for comment.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center on East Crescent Drive is closed due to the U.S. Government shutdown. A sign tells visitors the Natural Resources Conservation Service is still open. - photo by Scott Rogers

Economic impact

JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon told reporters Tuesday that he expects U.S. economic growth to slow to nothing this quarter if the government shutdown continues.

Most analysts don’t regard the shutdown alone as severe enough to imperil an economic expansion that has lasted nearly a decade. But should it drag into February, the slowdown in government activity could help shake confidence, and cause businesses and consumers to stop spending.

“The shutdown is coming on top of lots of other problems — the trade war, the slump in the stock market, Brexit, Trump’s political problems,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “By itself, the shutdown may not be a big deal, but if you add it up and mix it with all this other noxious stuff, it could become a real problem.”

The shutdown has already suspended the government’s release of some economic data, making it harder to fully assess the state of the economy.

To avoid lengthy delays in processing tax returns, the IRS has recalled some employees to work, in accordance with its contingency plans. But refunds would still likely to be delayed if the shutdown persists because the funding for them wouldn’t be available.

That would hurt retailers that rely on consumers who file their taxes early and spend their refund money in February or March. And any such pullback in spending would weigh on the overall economy.

According to Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings, the shutdown could cost an estimated 7.1 billion in GDP loss by Jan. 25, more than the $5.1 billion Trump seeks for extensions to the border wall. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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