A quick look at the government shutdown

By Joan Hunt - ReminderNews Managing Editor
Regional - posted Mon., Oct. 7, 2013

The Connecticut delegation in Washington, D.C., was vocal leading into the shutdown of the federal government and remains so as the days wear on. During the session leading into the Oct. 1 deadline, U.S. Rep. John Larson (D-1) charged his fellow representatives to “stand up for your country!”

“Do what’s fair for the American people – not the Democrats, not the Republicans, the Green Party, the Tea Party… the citizens of the greatest country in the world deserve to have their government open!” shouted an angry Larson.

On Monday’s “Morning Show,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told New England Cable News, “My frustration level is into the stratosphere, and the reason is that all of this shutdown impasse could be solved with a simple vote in the House of Representatives.” Blumenthal went on to say, “People don’t understand that Speaker of the House Republican John Boehner has a self-imposed rule that he won’t bring to the House floor any measure that doesn’t have a majority of Republicans’ support.” Blumenthal also said that 24 or more Republicans were set to vote in bipartisanship to agree on a budget, but Boehner refused to bring the vote to the floor.

Blumenthal came out the day of the shutdown with the statement that he would donate his pay (he makes $174,000 per year as a U.S. senator) during the federal government shutdown to the Wounded Warrior Project for veterans who have been injured in the course of military service since 2002, since it is feared that their benefits could be threatened if the shutdown lasts more than a couple of weeks.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2) announced Monday morning that critical Navy personnel would be returning to their furloughed jobs on site at Electric Boat, averting a negative impact of the government shutdown on the state’s submarine program, but noted that this was a short-term plus. “No industry or operations closely tied to the federal government can weather a shutdown indefinitely,” he said.

In a nutshell, these are the things that will not be affected by the government shutdown:

• Anything related to national security, including the U.S. military and foreign embassies.

• Employees who conduct “essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property,” like air traffic control, law enforcement, disaster assistance, federal prisons, border patrol, emergency care providers.

• Agencies that send out benefits and operating programs that are written into permanent law or get multi-year funding, like certain types of veterans’ benefits and Social Security checks. Unemployment benefits and food stamps are also included for now, since funding for them has been approved in earlier bills.

• Agencies with independent sources of funding, like the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Reserve.

• And, of course, members of Congress and the President will continue to be paid because their pay is written into permanent law – but staffers and many White House employees considered non-essential will not be paid.

Things that have already been affected include:

• The Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program has shut down, so businesses cannot check on the legal immigration status of prospective employees during the shutdown.

• National parks and museums, including the Smithsonian and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and the Statue of Liberty in NYC are closed and visitors turned away.

• The Environmental Protection Agency is closed down, except for work around Superfund sites.

• The Social Security Administration has retained staff to keep checks going out, but those in the process of applying for benefits or those who need benefit cards replaced or are waiting for a hearing in a disability case will have to wait.

• Key veterans benefits will continue and the VA hospitals will remain open, but many services will be disrupted. The Department of Veterans Affairs has said that it may not have enough money to pay disability claims and pension payments if the shutdown lasts or more than two or three weeks.

• The Department of Agriculture must cut off support for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which helps new moms and pregnant women buy healthy food and also provides health care referrals. Most states have funds to continue these programs for a week or more, but emergency funds are expected to run out by the end of October.

• Overall, about 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed, although the Pentagon has ordered about 300,000 employees back to work – and it is entirely possible that retroactive pay will be included in any budget agreement eventually reached by Congress.

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