Oregon’s local, state agencies brace for federal government shutdown

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Story by Tracy Loew and Natalie Pate | Published Jan. 19, 2018

The U.S. government shut down at midnight Friday after Congress failed to resolve a partisan standoff over immigration and spending. A flurry of last-minute negotiations failed to beat the deadline.

The shutdown left Northwest officials and residents wondering what could happen to programs and jobs across the region.

Transportation, prisons, free and reduced lunch in schools and national parks are a few of the dozens of federally-funded programs Oregon residents use daily.

About 7,400 federal employees in Oregon would be furloughed during a shutdown, said Craig Spivey of the Oregon Employment Department.

Some agencies, including the Oregon Department of Education, do not anticipate a significant impact from the shutdown unless it lasts for longer than a month.

Government shutdown basics: How could a government shutdown affect you?

Essential staff

Federal employees deemed “essential,” including law enforcement, would remain on the job.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers who operate Northwest dams also are among those considered essential.

“Obviously the dams need to keep running to generate electricity,” Corps spokeswoman Sarah Bennett said.

The Bonneville Power Administration is entirely self-funded through the sale of wholesale electricity and wouldn’t be impacted by a shutdown, BPA spokesman David Wilson said.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employees will be able to perform their duties through at least Jan. 26, and have been instructed to report to work as usual next week.

“At this time, EPA has sufficient resources to remain open for a limited amount of time,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told employees in an email.

Read more: Paper, plastic piling up across Oregon as China refuses to take U.S. recycling

National parks

Crater Lake and Olympic national parks responded to questions with a written statement saying park services that don’t require staff, such as plowed roads and toilets without plumbing would remain open.

Services that require staff, such as campgrounds and full-service restrooms, would close.

National park facilities operated by contractor Xanterra, such as lodges and restaurants, will remain open, the company said. That includes facilities at Crater Lake.

Read more: Major dam project could empty Detroit Lake for years

Transportation, health, agriculture

The Oregon Department of Transportation, like other state transportation agencies, operates under an existing spending authorization, ODOT spokeswoman Shelley Snow said.

“We have authority to continue operations as usual,” Snow said.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture also doesn’t expect any short-term impacts.

“If things went on for months it might be different,” ODA spokesman Bruce Pokarney said. “We do have some federal grants that have been awarded and it’s just a matter of receiving the money.”

Oregon’s Department of Human Services anticipates maintaining services and payments for several weeks.

DHS spokesman Jay Remy said programs like nutritional and cash assistance through SNAP and TANF, for example, should be fine in a short shutdown, operating as usual.

The Oregon Health Authority is telling clients to continue using the Oregon Health Plan, WIC Nutrition Program, Children’s Health Insurance Program and other benefits.

“At this time Oregon has the resources to continue all federally funded health programs,” spokesman Jonathan Modie said.

Schools

The Oregon Department of Education doesn’t anticipate any issues from the shutdown, said Rick Crager, assistant superintendent of finance and administration for the department.

After reaching out to the department’s two major partners in the federal government — the U.S. Education and Agriculture departments — Crager said Oregon will have the ability to draw the money they need to continue current services.

Money being used now is fully awarded through the end of school year. However, the shutdown could impact grants for which the money has not yet been awarded, or new grants in the coming months, if the shutdown continued that long.

Though the department isn’t anticipating such a prolonged governmental delay, he said the state would have to look closely at awards and alternative options if it reached that point.

For example, the education department receives $400 million per biennium from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for nutritional services alone, Crager said. This hefty sum would need to be replenished somehow if it timed out without new dollars in sight.

This could affect the nearly 60 percent of Salem-Keizer Public Schools’ more than 42,000 students who receive free and reduced meals. The district also uses federal funds for Title I schools, Indian Education and its S.T.E.P. program for homeless students, to name a few.

“Right now we don’t see any immediate impacts, but we’re awaiting further instruction from ODE,” said Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman for the district. “If it lasts for an extended period of time (six weeks or more), we’ll be impacted.”

Read more: Oregon NAACP leaders say state did not fairly allocate funds for black students

County operations

If a federal shutdown were to occur, Marion County programs will continue, said county spokeswoman Jolene Kelley. However, depending on the length, they may see a delay in some reimbursements.

Marion County does not directly administer any federal programs, but receives federal reimbursement dollars in the form of grants or pass through from the State or Oregon, Kelley said.

“We’ll be watching closely, along with everyone else,” she said, “and hope for minimal impact to county programs and services.”

Greg Hansen with Oregon’s Polk County doesn’t anticipate the shutdown affecting the county operationally.

Right now, he said, the county doesn’t have any Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) projects in the works, but if delayed long-term, it could impact the county financially.

Federal funding mostly affects health and human services and transportation for the county. A lengthy shutdown could leave the county cash poor.

Contact Tracy Loew at tloew@statesmanjournal.com, 503-399-6779 or follow at Twitter.com/Tracy_Loew

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

The AP contributed to this story.

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