Letters From the West

Federal government shutdown hits agencies differently

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is closed because of the shutdown.

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is closed because of the shutdown.

The biggest impact on Idaho from the federal government shutdown that began today will come from furloughs of federal workers.

It was unclear Tuesday how many of the 11,750 Idahoans who work for the federal government will be furloughed. In other states a third to half of federal workers were out of work today.

The impact will be especially hard in southwest Idaho since 9,000 of those federal jobs are in southwest Idaho.

State officials said 850 of the Idaho National Guard’s 1,750 employees were furloughed.

All of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Idaho offices are closed. Only limited functions would continue, such as those necessary to respond to emergencies and to protect human life or property.


But a team of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technical experts were on the ground in Idaho Tuesday to help state and local governments put together a request for funding to prevent flooding and landslides after the Elk, Pony and Beaver Creek wildfires. They were out in Elmore and Blaine counties today because their project funding is from the 2013 fiscal budget, not the 2014 budget that begins today, said Gina Baltrusch, a Corps spokeswoman in Walla Walla.

“The shutdown isn’t going to affect those dollars,” Baltrusch said.

She was going down a list of tasks to carry out an “orderly shutdown” before she goes on furlough, when she will have to leave her Blackberry behind and end contact with the media and public.

Calls to several federal public information officers were not picked up early Tuesday, but most agencies are keeping at least one spokesman around.

National parks national monuments are closed but national forests are open, without services, such as campgrounds and picnic areas. But if a fire starts it will be put out.

The Bureau of Reclamation will operate its dams, and other essential services will continue.

The Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge’s Lake Lowell and Snake River Islands units are closed. That also bars access to fishing and upland game, waterfowl and deer hunting there.

Included in her orderly shutdown, Baltrusch was updating her passwords because they automatically end every 60 days. She’s not sure how long she will be gone or when her passwords expire.

Here is a Q&A put together by Idaho Rep. Rep. Mike Simpson:

Q – Will I continue to receive my mail?

A – Yes. The U.S. Postal service functions as an independent organization.

Q – Will I continue to get my Social Security benefits?

A – Yes. Social Security is considered a “mandatory” program and is not dependent on appropriations to continue dispensing benefits. However, the Social Security Administration is impacted, but it is believed they would be sufficiently staffed to ensure payments are continued to be made.

Q – Will the IRS continue to collect taxes?

A – Yes. All payments can still be processed.  However, it is possible that refunds could be delayed and all audit activities by the IRS will be suspended.

Q – Can I go to a national park?

A – No. The National Park Service has closed entrances and told all visitors to leave.  Anyone already in the parks will have to leave within two days.

Q – Will museums in Washington, D.C. be closed?

A – Yes. The Smithsonian, Archives, National Zoo, Holocaust Museum and monuments are closed to the public.

Q – Will food safety inspections occur?

A – Safety related inspections will continue, but some investigations into violations could be impacted.

Q – Will a shutdown stop the implementation of Obamacare?

A – No. The state-run exchanges will open as scheduled. Similar to Social Security and Medicare, most of the funding for the exchanges is mandatory funding not impacted by appropriations.

Q – Will I still receive unemployment benefits or food stamps?

A – Yes. The Employment and Training Administration has said it will provide essential functions, including dispensing unemployment benefits.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said SNAP (food stamps) is funded for another year.

Q – Can I receive WIC benefits?

A – No money is available to pay for the administrative costs of WIC at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   However, states do administer the program, so funding may be available.

Q – Will the federal school lunch program stay in effect?

A – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that most schools will be able to provide meals through October.

Q – Will airports stay open?

A – The Transportation Security Administration has said passengers should see little change at security.  There are furloughs at TSA but essential employees will continue to work.

Q – Will federal prisons, border patrol, emergency medical facilities, law enforcement and disaster response continue functioning?

A – Yes. Any employee who is considered to be essential to protecting life and property will remain in place.

Q – Will troops be paid?

A – Yes. Congress passed legislation Monday to ensure members of the armed forces get paid on time as normal.  Furloughed civilian workers won’t be paid unless Congress passes legislation restoring lost income when the shutdown ends.



Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West