The federal government shutdown has resulted in hundreds of local employees furloughed and many others required to work without pay, with the possibility of cutbacks to the veterans health care system to come.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, called the situation “unacceptable” and told The Press of Atlantic City that he was in favor of “whatever gets a successful conclusion to this” — and a “clean” continuing resolution, which does not include postponement of the Affordable Care Act, “is one of those options.”
“But I’m told that’s not going to happen,” LoBiondo continued. “But I’ve been told a lot of things weren’t going to happen, but they have.”
The federal government shut down just after midnight Tuesday morning after Congress failed to pass a continuing resolution, or CR, that would keep the government funded.
The Democratic-controlled Senate has repeatedly passed a “clean” CR and sent it to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. LoBiondo voted along with fellow Republicans for both a CR that would have defunded the Affordable Care Act and a second one that would have postponed it for one year.
The Affordable Care Act, considered an essential program, started allowing signups online beginning Tuesday, despite the shutdown.
Rep. Jon Runyan, R-3rd, has also publicly come out in favor of a clean CR, but LoBiondo said a hard-line group of Republican members of Congress are preventing that from being brought to a vote in the House.
“I just came out of a conference, and I do not like what I heard,” LoBiondo said Tuesday. “I do not know what the strategy is, but it does not look like anything is going to get put on the table to get (a CR passed). ... Forty to 50 (House) members, maybe 60, have successfully blocked anything being done that makes any sense.”
LoBiondo was also critical of President Barack Obama’s administration and Senate Democrats, saying that “they want to discuss nothing and talk about nothing. They won’t even seek common ground. The only way to work on it is to do exactly what they want. It’s a tough position for Republican House members — and throw into the mix the 40 to 50 that think they need to hold off on everything.”
LoBiondo added he expected some kind of further action may be taken as soon as Tuesday evening, saying that there has been talk of a smaller CR that directly funds specific parts of the federal government.
“What’s included in that list remains to be seen,” he said. “The FAA would certainly warrant being on the list.”
At the William Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, as many as 1,000 FAA employees may be furloughed as a result of the government shutdown, a union official said, while essential employees are working without pay.
Bob Challender, steward for American Federation of Government Employees Local 200, said that 155 of 316 of his union’s employees have been furloughed due to the shutdown.
Add the National Federation of Federal Employees and National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Challender said, and about 1,000 of 1,500 FAA employees at the tech center are furloughed.
Essential employees, such as air traffic controllers and those involved in maintenance of air traffic systems, “are being told they will not be paid until Congress passes an appropriations bill,” Challender said. “They’re also being told they cannot take leave, vacation or sick leave, and if they have to take leave they have to go into furlough status.”
As for screeners, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson stated that “TSA Transportation Security, including aviation passenger screening, as well as the TSA Federal Air Marshal Service would remain operational under a government shutdown because they have been deemed law enforcement necessary or necessary for the safety of life and protection of property.”
Atlantic City International Airport, because of the essential employees, has and will be operational, South Jersey Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Rehman said. A plane reporting smoke in the cockpit made an unscheduled landing at the airport about 10:30 a.m.
Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers and clinics in Northfield, Vineland and Cape May will remain open, as appropriations for fiscal 2014 have been received in advance.
Operations that will continue include inpatient and outpatient care, nursing home, mental health and extended care, prescriptions, surgeries, dental treatment, and special services for women veterans.
However, according to a statement, funding will only continue through late October for claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs.
“In the event of a prolonged shutdown,” the Department of Veterans Affairs stated, “claims processing and payments in these programs will be suspended when funds are exhausted.” In addition, there will be no overtime for claims processors during a shutdown.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also said dredging and dune rebuilding projects are already funded — with enough in place to continue for months — and will continue despite the shutdown.
Other essential programs that will continue include Medicare, FEMA aid including the National Flood Insurance Program, and Coast Guard operations including the Cape May Training Center. Federal educational funding for 2013-14 has already been received by the state, along with federal aid to local emergency management departments.
But flu detection and monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control has ceased, the CDC stated, and quarterly grants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Care, Social Services Block Grant, Refugee Programs, Child Welfare Services and the Community Service Block Grant programs will also stop without funding.
The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, meanwhile, has closed to the public, leaving no access to properties and cancelling all activities and public programs.
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