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Shutdown fallout hits Halifax County

As the nation enters the fourth day of a federal government shutdown, only a few immediate effects are being felt in Halifax County — so far.

However, some county residents are wondering how this situation will soon impact their lives.

The shutdown already has resulted in 800,000 being furloughed nationwide and is costing the nation almost $300 million per day, $12.5 million an hour and $1.6 billion a week, based on research from economic consulting firm IHS Global Insight.

According to the Pew Research Center, the last shutdown back in 1995-1996 cost $1.4 billion for the 26-day closure, which in today’s dollars is the equivalent of $2.1 billion.

With the exception of one or two impacted agencies, not much in Halifax County has been affected so far by the shut down.

The local Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) offices in Halifax are closed, and the websites for these departments are unavailable due to the lapse of federal government funding. 

A sign on the door of the FSA and NRCS notifies the public “the U.S. Department of Agriculture office is currently closed due to the lapse in federal government funding. The office will reopen once Congress restores funding.”

However, the NRCS Water and Climate Center website is still available for viewing.

All social security field offices will remain open providing limited services, and hearing offices remain open to conduct hearings before an administrative law judge. 

Social Security card centers are closed. Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments to beneficiaries will continue with no change in payment dates.

Services that will not be provided during the shutdown include issuing of new or replacement Social Security cards, replacing Medicare cards and issuing a proof of income letter. Online services will remain operational.

Due to the government shutdown, the Virginia Employment Commission announced Wednesday it will not be able to release Virginia local unemployment rate statistics for August. 

During the shutdown, they will not be able to update any Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data that is on their website, www.VirginiaLMI.com. Updates of the BLS data on the website will start again when the federal government resumes operations.

According to Kathy Andrews, director of the Halifax County Department of Social Services, at this point the shut down has had no effect on any of the programs they offer, but if the shutdown goes on for more than 30 days, budgeting may be impacted.

Social services are responsible for providing benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, auxillary grants, foster care, child and adult protective services and more.

Dr. Matthew Arroyo, director of the Southside District of the Virginia Department of Health, said funding is available to get them through the next few weeks despite the government shutdown, and the local Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program is still being fully funded. 

He added the shutdown would have no effect on the program short-term but he is not sure of the long-term effects the shutdown may have. 

Arroyo said, “If worse comes to worse,” state funding will be used to fund the department.

 Patricia Taylor, director of Tri-County Community Action Head Start Program, said the shutdown hasn’t affected the program because it has already received funding for the current budget year. 

However, if the shutdown lasts through December, it may have an impact because a new budget year begins Jan. 1 that will require funding.

With the shutdown also impacting federal housing loans, many fear it could have a negative impact on the real estate industry.

However, Debbie Palmer of Palmer Properties said so far she hasn’t seen any effect from the shutdown. But the future remains in question. 

Currently, none of her clients have faced any problems with their financing.

County Administrator Jim Halasz said the shutdown would have little effect on the county as well. 

However, grant programs may be jeopardized depending on how long the shutdown lasts. He said the most federal funds the county gets involve the school system.

According to Assistant Superintendent Valdivia Marshall, the shutdown won’t have any impact on grant funding for the current school year, and a skeleton crew is in place at the United States Department of Education to process reimbursements. 

However, if the shut down continues into November, the federal school meal program may be impacted, Marshall said.

Local Postmaster Pat Honeycutt said post offices aren’t being affected by the shutdown because the postal system is an independent government agency that does not rely on federal tax dollars. 

The shutdown is having no impact on any of the 36 Virginia State Parks that remain open to the public, according to Joe Elton, Department Conservation and Recreation director.

“All Virginia State Parks remain open for business during this prime fall season,” he said. “Schedules have not changed, reservations are being honored, and all programs remain intact. False Cape remains open, although it can now only be accessed through North Carolina or by boat across Back Bay.” 

 Republican 5th District Congressman Robert Hurt offered his take on the government shutdown Wednesday saying, “We in the House have been working diligently to offer proposals to fund the government in recent weeks. Over that course of time, we have offered three proposals to fund the operations of the government and to embrace fiscal reform in Washington. 

“The Senate has blocked each and every one of our good faith proposals, refusing to compromise or even negotiate. In the end, the Senate’s inaction protects special favors for big business, big labor and the Washington political elite and leaves the Virginia family out in the cold. 

“I am disappointed at this turn of events, and I remain committed to working in good faith to find agreement for funding the operations of government as soon as possible,” Hurt said.

 Following Monday’s 54-46 senate vote that shut down the federal government, Democratic U. S. Senator Mark Warner said, “It is disappointing that the House majority is prepared to shut down the federal government in its continuing ideological opposition to the Affordable Care Act. 

“This is not a responsible way to conduct our nation’s business. It threatens the economic recovery. It also is not fair to target the federal workforce to bear the brunt of this dysfunction. 

“The Senate has now sent a clean interim spending measure to the House twice –a measure which already reflects compromise between the Senate and House spending plans. The House leadership should allow members to cast an up-or-down vote.”

 Democratic U. S. Senator Tim Kaine agreed and blamed the shut down on House Republicans.

 “House Republicans let the United States government shut down at midnight because they would not accept a compromise spending bill passed by the Senate last week to fund government until Nov. 15 at the precise spending level proposed by the House,” he said. “After allowing the shutdown to occur, House Republicans decided to pass a motion seeking a conference between the two houses on government funding. 

“The Senate has been seeking a budget conference since March 23 and has been blocked by Republicans 18 times in the last six months.  The House’s decision to finally seek a conference to discuss short-term budget issues after shutting government down shows a callous disregard for the economy and for millions of American families who are affected by the shutdown.  

“The House should act to re-open the federal government by accepting the compromise offered by the Senate. Otherwise they are responsible for keeping the government closed to make an ideological point over healthcare,” Kaine said.