Local Officials Assess Impact of Federal Government Shutdown

While parks, courts and other federal agencies with operations in the territory either closed or began to prepare Tuesday for the final news of a federal government shutdown, local officials said that, overall, V.I. government operations will not be feeling an immediate impact.

Several V.I. government departments, including Education, Labor and Human Services, have programs or offer services that operate off of federal funds, but in a statement Tuesday night, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said that, for the most part, any negative impact would be felt over time if the shutdown continues.

“I have asked each commissioner and department head whose agency benefits from federal funding and federal services to take a close look at how their day-to-day operations are being affected by the shutdown and what can be done locally to bridge the gaps that exist,” deJongh said in the statement.

Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr. said that his department’s funding and general operations are fine, for now, and that there is enough money to operate through the end of the year. No programs, including regular unemployment and Extended Unemployment Compensation, are affected and checks will be issued as usual, he said.

According to the Government House statement, the Department of Health’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program has been affected by the shutdown. Any check given to WIC participants with an Oct. 2013 date cannot be cashed, and no food or other benefits will be given out until the shutdown is over, the statement said.

All WIC clinics will be open until Friday, with staff processing waiting list appointments. New participants will be processed when funding becomes available.

For the V.I. National Guard, the shutdown will impact technicians and some civilians whose salaries are covered by federal funds. Several other divisions, including the active guard reserve, active duty, operational support and counterdrug personnel, will continue to report to work, but there will be no one on individual duty training and annual training status, according to the release.

In Education, the shutdown will have a minimal impact on the department’s school lunch program, but officials said Tuesday that no disruption is expected. However, meals and employee salaries cannot be reimbursed from Oct. 1 until the shutdown is resolved, the release said.

No immediate effect was reported by the Department of Human Services. SNAP, TANF and other cash-assistance programs were paid. Medicaid will not be affected; nor will child care services.

DeJongh said the government will continue to assess the effects of the shutdown over the next few weeks – and how it will impact the 700 or more federal government employees working in the territory.

“They are employed by a host of agencies from law enforcement to the courts to the park service. The shutdown will no doubt have a ripple effect here in the territory as well,” deJongh said.

Within the legislative branch, Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone said the shutdown will have no impact on operations. Malone told the Source his concern lies more with how the shutdown will impact the local tourism industry, federal law enforcement agencies and the district courts.

Malone said he contacted the Delegate to Congress’ office Tuesday to talk about the closure of National Park beaches on St. John and how residents might still be able to access them.

"This impacts our already fragile economy and we need the cooperation of the park on St. John in order to accommodate visitors. And what are locals supposed to do without access to the beaches, especially at what is the hottest time of the year?" Malone said.

In a release Tuesday, Delegate Donna M. Christensen said the shutdown will have a ripple effect throughout the V.I. and U.S. economies since “many private businesses who rent to, service and work with the federal and local government will be impacted.”

“My Democratic colleagues want to work with Republicans to stop the shutdown, but not at the expense of overturning the Affordable Care Act which has begun to cover those who had no way to pay for health care,” Christensen said in the release. “Many federal employees, including my staff, have already been affected by the sequester, and now there is more uncertainty with the shutdown. It is my hope that as we proceed this week, we can approve a clean continuing resolution and resume the business of the United States of America.”

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