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Government shutdown leaves some in limbo

Profile image for By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer
By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer

Day two of the first government shutdown in nearly two decades continues to leave thousands of federal workers with an impromptu unpaid holiday and most nonessential government services halted.

Millions of Americans continue to be unable to get government services ranging from federally backed home loans to supplemental food assistance for children and pregnant women as a Monday deadline to avert this shutdown passed amid a Congress tied up in a fight over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The government’s budget has turned into a political fight over the Affordable Care Act, said Paul Collins, associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas.

“[Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid has made it very clear he’s not willing to negotiate delaying the Affordable Care Act, so the House is going to have to come to terms with that,” Collins said. “It ultimately seems to be largely a showdown about Obamacare.”

Collins estimated that striking a deal may take a few weeks, as leaders in the House and Senate try to work out details.

“I think they understand the necessity of getting this done, and I think they’ll try to move quickly,” he said. “Unfortunately, it looks like both chambers have drawn a line in the sand.”

The longer the shutdown continues, the bigger chance of it affecting veterans receiving benefits and those hoping their claims are processed in a timely manner.

“Our office will remain open — we’re funded by Denton County taxpayers,” said Paul Bastaich, Denton County veterans services officer. “And we will send claims down to the regional office as we do today; unfortunately, things may slow down at the regional office — depending on how long the government is shut down, the claims may cease to be processed. They will be received but not processed.”

Bastaich said there is funding for a short time to cover benefits, but if the shutdown continues and that money runs out, there could be an impact on everyone currently receiving payments for disability compensation, pensions and education.

Bastaich said veterans will not be able to check on the status of their claims at the regional office or receive claims and records information they may have requested.

“What we do here will continue,” Bastaich said of his office.

Control tower operations at Denton Enterprise Airport are not affected for the time being.

Mike Brunkhardt of Robinson Aviation, a Federal Aviation Administration contractor in charge of Denton’s tower operations, said the contractor has been funded through Oct. 31.

“What happens after that, we don’t know,” Brunkhardt said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is closing its campgrounds and day-access parks this evening.

People already in the park will have time to pack up and leave, but they must vacate by 8 p.m., corps spokeswoman Rhonda Paige said.

The corps also will not accept new reservations for camping in its parks until the budget impasse is over.

For now, the only corps personnel being furloughed are those working under its recreation programs. Employees assigned to life and safety matters, such as flood control, are still at work, Paige said.

“Right now, we have no furlough notifications for them,” Paige said. “But that could change.”

Officials with the Texas Education Agency said Tuesday that they don’t expect any major impact on Texas school districts as a result of the government shutdown. Federal dollars received by school districts for the 2013-14 year were paid in July, and so the programs “are covered” for the current school year, wrote DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

In a letter to Texas school administrators Monday, Commissioner of Education Michael L. Williams wrote that deliberations regarding the fiscal 2014 year will determine funding appropriations for the 2014-15 year, but at this time, 2013-14 appropriations don’t appear to be jeopardized.

His letter went on to state that the partial government shutdown could impact the timeliness of “grant award notifications” to the TEA from the U.S. Department of Education and that “USDE staff may not be available to assist with timely reimbursements of TEA drawdowns.”

School officials in Argyle, Aubrey, Denton, Krum, Lake Dallas and Sanger said they don’t anticipate the shutdown having any immediate impact on any programs they offer.

On Monday, Sharon Cox — a spokeswoman for the Denton school district — wrote in an e-mail that if the shutdown became a long-term situation, that “it could potentially affect the future viability of the district’s federally funded programs.”

Staff writers Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, Megan Gray, Jenna Duncan, Brittney Tabor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.