The effects of a possible partial shutdown of the federal government Tuesday could have a number of effects locally - or it may not.
Officials at the state level said that any halt in federally funded programs depends on how long a shutdown lasts, while federal officials mostly expressed optimism that a shutdown wouldn't happen.
The latest congressional crisis stems from attempts to pass a stopgap spending measure by midnight today. The two houses of Congress have until then to work out their differences and avoid a shutdown with the start of the new fiscal year.
A plan approved by House Republicans to delay major parts of the nation's new health care law and repeal a tax on medical devices in exchange for preventing a shutdown was rejected Sunday by the White House and the leader of the Democrat-controlled Senate, which was not scheduled to meet until midafternoon today.
If a shutdown begins, certain functions would be deemed "essential" and continue, including Coast Guard operations and patrols and postal deliveries.
"We're self-funded, so it wouldn't affect us," U.S. Postal Services spokesman Ray Daiutulo said. "Operations will be normal."
Local entities that receive yearly federal funding would also not be affected if the shutdown is short-term. Deputy Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Ed Conover said that all federal funds the office received for this year were already in place. The OEM is in the process of applying for funds for 2014.
The effect on hospitals would also be minimal, though the time frame for when there would be harmful effects is smaller.
Kerry McKean Kelly, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Hospital Association, said that Medicare is considered an essential government program and would not immediately be affected. Medicaid, meanwhile, is a state and federal partnership and is funded differently.
"That could change if the shutdown is for an extended period of time, like beyond Nov. 1," McKean Kelly said. "Then it would likely delay Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers."
Ironically, the program at the center of the crisis, the Affordable Care Act, would also not be affected by any shutdown, she said. Online registration for health care exchanges is set to begin Tuesday, the same day as any potential shutdown, "but the way the ACA is funded is not contingent in this annual appropriation."
Federal aid for schools would also not be immediately affected in the case of a short shutdown, said Deputy Executive Director Frank Belluscio.
"Education aid is released on a periodic basis," Belluscio said. "For the 2013-14 school year, aid has generally already been received by the state. (Also), New Jersey is not particularly dependent on federal aid, except for certain communities. It's approximately 3 percent of total educational expenditures."
As for unemployment and other benefits, "at this point, we can't speculate," said state Department of Labor and Workforce Development spokesman Brian Murray in an email. "Everyone should anticipate that our services will continue next week, as usual. If anything should change, we will let you know. That's about all I can say at this point."
In an area still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, the question of continued FEMA aid is another major issue.
"FEMA remains committed to supporting disaster survivors," spokesman Dan Watson said in an email. Ongoing response operations "will not be impacted directly by a government shutdown. FEMA's response to disasters and emergencies is funded by the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), which would not initially be affected by a funding lapse for annual appropriations."
Regarding Atlantic City International Airport, South Jersey Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Rehman said that the SJTA had not been notified of any potential changes, adding that because the airport has no international flights, there would be no effect on Customs.
All inquiries about the Transportation Safety Authority were directed to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond, and inquiries about the Federal Aviation Administration and air traffic control were directed to the federal Department of Transportation.
"The Department of Transportation continues to support President Obama's proposed (fiscal year) 2014 budget, and strongly believes that a lapse in appropriations should not occur," spokeswoman Casey Hernandez said in an email. "As Secretary (Anthony) Foxx discussed last week, … we believe there is a clear need across the country for long-term transportation funding and certainty. We believe there is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse. That said, DOT has begun working with (the Office of Management and Budget) to prepare for the possibility of a lapse, consistent with what was done in previous instances where a potential lapse in appropriations was approaching."
One area where there would be a noticeable effect: The Edward B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge.
"We wouldn't have staff report except for essential employees," refuge manager Virginia Rettig said. "So we would not be open to the public."
During the federal shutdown in 1995, however, hunters and birders trespassed on the refuge anyway - something Rettig hopes does not happen again.
"They shouldn't," she said. "When the refuge is closed, we don't have anyone here to ensure visitor safety. When the property's closed, that means it's closed."
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