By CLINT FOSTER
The government shutdown in Washington, D.C., has been the headline story in national news outlets so far in the month of October.
Everyone who has watched the news the past week knows the impact on the nation, as a whole, and on Capitol Hill; but what about the local impact?
How does the government’s self-silent treatment effect services in Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County?
The short answer is not very much.
“The shutdown will have a negligible impact on us, if any at all,” said Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton. “We don’t deal with the federal bureaucracy on a daily basis. In fact, it’s more uncommon than it is common.
“If this goes on for a protracted period of time – for weeks and months – then, certainly, there may be some issues that might arise that would effect us. For all practical purposes, we are not impacted to any extent at all.”
Howerton plainly pointed out that the local government and it’s associated entities will continue to function as normal. The U.S. Postal Service is still delivering mail and the police are still protecting the streets.
Other local groups that depend on some federal funding have also said the impact will be negligible, provided, of course, that the shutdown does not persist for months on end.
A representative from Meals on Wheels of Palo Pinto County said they have not been directly impacted, as of yet, nor has Mineral Wells Independent School District according to Superintendent Gail Haterius.
“All of the appropriations for our federally funded Title I and Title II, which is money to help supplement education for low-income [students] and English-language learners, was already set aside and these programs are run through our state education department,” Haterius said. “The Free and Reduced Lunch program has not had any delay in funding, nor is any expected at this time.”
Brad Manning of Texas Neighborhood Services, which includes the and local Head Start program, also said the shutdown is having no effect on his groups, locally.
“Our funding strains run May to April, so we’re still working from 2013 money that was previously appropriated,” he said. “If the shutdown continues until April 30, we would have impact, but nobody sees it going that long.”
Manning added that, nationally, 23 Head Start agencies representing about 19,000 children had to close on Oct. 1 because of a lack of funding. However, he said none of these were in Texas.
Palo Pinto General Hospital CEO Harris Brooks said his facility is also unaffected, as of yet. He explained that Medicare is not shutdown and, as a member of the Texas Health Association, all Medicare payments will continue as normal for PPGH. The only thing that hangs in limbo for PPGH as a result of the shutdown are some unpaid bills that expired Sept. 30.
“Because of all this, they’re basically dead in the water until [Congress] comes back into session and can get some agreement and get the government back on some track,” Brooks said. “Those things have expired for now. But the basic funding that we send to Medicare, those bills are being paid.”
Although the government shutdown is not effecting many large groups yet, where it is hitting hardest is on the individuals who depend on government salaries.
Strawn resident Peggy McQueary is a federal corrections officer at Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth. Many government employees have been furloughed, but as an officer at a federal prison, housing more than 2,000 female inmates, McQueary is mandated to go to work. She just won’t be getting a paycheck until the situation in Washington is resolved.
“We knew signing on that was something that could possibly happen,” she said. “We have to be there, because, obviously, someone has to supervise the inmates. We’re supposed to get reimbursed when all of this is said and done.”
Not only are officers like McQueary – a 25-year veteran of law enforcement – not getting paychecks during the shutdown, they also won’t be reimbursed for sick time or annual leave and probably won’t be properly compensated for extra time, such as night shifts. Regardless of whether or not the federal government follows through with promised reimbursements, the lack of pay has put people like McQueary in a bind, at least temporarily.
“I’ve got all my bills paid and am good to go right now, but if this continues till the 17th or beyond and I miss a whole pay-period, I’m going to have to call people and say ‘There’s a possibility I won’t be able to make a car payment, you’ll have to work with me,’” she said. “It’s affected me on how I’m going to pay my bills and it’s a little stressful. There’s a lot of people like me that take care of family members and they depend on you. When something like this happens, it’s a burden.”
McQueary is also stuck having to foot an expensive gas bill from her daily commute from Strawn to Fort Worth with no inflow of money in sight. She said she understands living so far away is a personal choice, but she wants to be near to her family members whom she takes care of.
The consensus seems to be the longer the shutdown lasts, the worse things will potentially get.
Citizens can only hope, for the sake of those like McQueary and the sake of our nation’s future, that this impasse does not last long.