Shutdown hits close to home
Are you feeling the effects of the federal government shutdown yet? What is going on in D.C. anyways?
There are 12 appropriations bills that Congress needs to pass every year to fund the government so it can continue running. In the past, stopgap or piecemeal budgets have been passed (known as continuing resolutions) so the united, annual budget isn't exactly necessary.
But gridlock in the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate is preventing any stopgap measure from being passed — triggering a federal government shutdown of "nonessential" services. On the table are any number negotiations: restoring funding and operation of the federal government, raising the debt ceiling before the Oct. 17 borrowing deadline and repealing parts or all of the nation's new healthcare law.
In the meantime, though, the federal government shutdown is affecting not only the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who have been sent home, but also citizens right here in Waukesha County who rely on federal agencies or government contracts.
Jennifer Waltz, executive director at Sussex Outreach Services, said her organization is always struggling to meet the needs of its clients, but the government shutdown is particularly disheartening.
"Sometimes we just don't really realize how high the need is in Waukesha County. ... There is definitely poverty in the suburbs," she said.
Her pantry, like most in Lake Country, uses federally subsidized commodity programs, programs that are currently on the chopping block.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is one such program. TEFAP is a federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income needy persons, including elderly people, by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance.
Waltz said TEFAP would continue providing for the Sussex pantry this month, but it's up in the air for November.
"We wouldn't be able to replace what TEFAP gives us, either, if it's just up to us," she said, adding that foods such as frozen meats, juice and cereal would no longer be available to many of her clients.
Stock boxes, through the Hunger Task Force, are also in peril. Stockboxes are free, prepackaged boxes of food delivered to low-income seniors and children.
Waltz added that changes, too, for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are inevitable. The Hunger Task Force has said that if the government shutdown doesn't end before Oct. 18 then Wisconsin residents who rely on SNAP or FoodShare will lose their benefits starting Nov. 2.
"If there isn't a resolution by Oct. 17, November FoodShare benefits could clearly be affected. Benefit issuance for Nov. 2 is processed on Oct. 17, explained Sherrie Tussler, Hunger Task Force executive director. "One-tenth of the population of all FoodShare eligible households receive benefits on a rolling basis from Oct. 17 forward. As such, 85,000 Wisconsinites are at risk of losing their benefits for November. With each day that passes, the number of people who will be affected increases by another 85,000. By the end of the month, 859,000 in Wisconsin will be harmed."
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods (such as baby formula), healthcare referrals and nutritional education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk. In light of the shutdown, Waltz said it is unclear how long WIC programs will continue to be funded through the state.
"We are very much in need of donations right now — and not only food, but monetary as well. ... It's especially hard to think of our women and children in such great need ... but I know this community will step up and support us," Waltz said.
The Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office in Milwaukee shut down last week, in addition to many VA call centers and hotlines.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, public contact services are no longer available, and the process of appeals and remands has been suspended. This means no decisions on appeals or motions will be issued by the Board of Veterans Appeals, and no board field hearings on appeals will be held.
Presidential memorial certificates will not be processed.
Educational offerings, such as public education or outreach events, VetSuccess on Campus, Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Counseling will be limited or suspended completely.
VBA will not be able to pay its workers overtime, either, so claims are expected to get backlogged. While claims processing and payment through the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October, a prolonged shutdown will exhaust funding and payments or claims processing could be suspended entirely.
Waukesha County is a hub of industrial innovation, and it's no surprise that many companies in Lake Country hold contracts or create products for the United States government.
Woodway USA Inc., for example, is a family-owned business in Pewaukee that has manufactured treadmills for the armed forces and government facilities for years.
"At this point, the shutdown is inconveniencing a small portion of our business, but nothing that at this point greatly concerns us. If anything has negatively affected us, it would be the sequester, which has been going on much longer than the shutdown," explained Director of Sales and Marketing Eric Weber.
Officials at Generac Power Systems expressed similar sentiments. Generac Power Systems, with locations in Waukesha, Eagle and Whitewater, manufacture home standby generators.
Spokesman Art Aiello said that while they can't point to anything other than a minor disruption at this point, there are some concerns.
"Should the shutdown continue, we would be concerned about impacts on permitting and certifications for new products, in particular," he said.
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