Government shutdown impacts few in area
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Oct 02, 2013 | 1721 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE PARKING LOT of the USDA Forest Service Office in Cleveland remains full of unused Forest Service vehicles. Like Forest Service and National Park Service locations throughout the country, it was closed on Tuesday due to a partial government shutdown.  Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
THE PARKING LOT of the USDA Forest Service Office in Cleveland remains full of unused Forest Service vehicles. Like Forest Service and National Park Service locations throughout the country, it was closed on Tuesday due to a partial government shutdown. Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG

Messages like the one callers to the Cherokee National Forest Supervisor’s Office on North Ocoee Street hear have become increasingly common sounds to those trying to reach federally funded offices nationwide.

“I am not in the office at this time,” a female staff member said in an automated answering message. “I am on furlough due to the lapse in federal government funding. I look forward to returning your message when funding has been restored.”

A partial government shutdown began Tuesday after federal government officials were unable to agree on a budget for the new fiscal year.

The shutdown has impacted numerous federal employees throughout the country, as thousands deemed “non-essential” have been sent home from work on unpaid furloughs or required to work without pay until further notice.

While the extent of the shutdown’s effects has varied from state to state and from city to city, local officials have said the shutdown has not affected the lives of most people in the Cleveland area.

Despite the furloughs of local USDA Forest Service and National Guard employees, business has gone on as usual for most.

“I don’t see a lot of impact at all,” Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said.

Rowland said the services local residents receive, like deliveries of Social Security checks and other U.S. mail, should largely continue as planned.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis echoed that sentiment.

“While they work through their problems in Washington, Bradley County is continuing to serve its citizens as usual,” Davis said.

In addition to things like regular deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service, some federally funded agencies are able to carry out their most vital functions. For example, all hospitals and doctor’s offices for veterans plan to remain open, according to a contingency plan issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

However, several government agencies have seen complete closures since Tuesday.

The Forest Service has been forced to close all parks in the region until further notice, with almost all their staffs on furlough.

Locally, this meant that the Cherokee National Forest had to be closed, and those who had been staying in campgrounds were given 48 hours to pack up and leave.

The door of the Forest Service office on North Ocoee Street now greets would-be visitors with a sign explaining the shutdown.

However, state parks like nearby Red Clay State Park remain open.

More than 1,500 National Guard technicians were furloughed statewide, according to a statement issued by the Tennessee National Guard.

Local National Guard recruiter Sgt. John Thompson could not confirm the exact number of technicians furloughed in the Cleveland area, but he said he was aware of some.

While the National Guard as a whole will remain functioning in case of emergencies, employees like those bearing the technician job title were designated as “non-essential.”

“They are guardsmen who work full time but aren’t on active duty,” Thompson said.

Nationally, active duty members of the U.S. Military remain on duty.

As for government-funded programs that focus on matters like whether or not people have adequate access to resources like food, shelter and electricity, it all depends on where they live.

The Bradley-Cleveland Community Services Agency, which provides services like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the distribution of food commodities, receives much of its funding from the state, said program coordinator Jacqueline Westfield.

“Our office has not been affected up to this point,” Westfield said.

However, she said some of the agency’s clients may be hurt by the shutdown because they may not be able to get copies of documentation like Social Security cards they need to apply for certain programs because offices that process new requests for them have been closed.

What also remains uncertain is how agencies funded by Tennessee’s government will fare if the federal shutdown lasts a while.

“If it goes on for an extended period of time, it may affect us,” Westfield said.

Another program that has been impacted in some states has been the Women, Infants and Children, or Special Supplemental Nutrition, program that provides vouchers for food and other resources to low-income women who are either pregnant or have a child under the age of 5.

As of right now, that program is continuing as usual in Tennessee.

“We can tell you the Tennessee WIC program has some carry-forward funding that will be used to provide normal services to WIC clients at this time,” a representative of the Tennessee Department of Health posted on its Facebook page. “WIC clients may want to call their local health department next week to ask about possible program changes if the federal government shutdown continues.”

The director of the Bradley County Department of Health, which oversees the local WIC program, could not be reached for comment before press time. However, a staff member confirmed that, as of right now, women in the program can still receive and spend vouchers.

Offices related to things like economic development, like the U.S. Small Business Administration, have seen more impacts.

A workshop to explain the Affordable Care Act to local business owners at the Tennessee Small Business Association’s local office on the Cleveland State Community College campus on Tuesday was canceled after its instructor was not allowed to travel from Nashville to teach it.

How state-funded offices and programs will operate in days to come depends on how well Tennessee’s budget will hold up while the federal shutdown, whose length is uncertain, continues.