Federal budget impasse makes itself felt locally
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Oct. 8, 2013
The budget freeze in Washington, D.C. - the result of a political impasse between Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives - has begun to make its effects felt in the region. Weekend and annual training for the state’s National Guard units is on hold, said Connecticut National Guard spokesman Col. John Whitford. A total of 540 full-time Guard technicians - just under half of the state’s 1,100 full-time Guard members - were furloughed, but as of Monday, officials were looking to bring 500 of those employees back, “but they’re still not getting a paycheck,” he said.
Both Army and Air National Guard units train one weekend a month, as well as once each year for a 15-day stretch. Both types of training sessions are on hold until the impasse is resolved, meaning that Guard members will not receive the expected pay for those sessions. The 15-day annual training can be rescheduled later in the fiscal year, Whitford said.
Among the units affected is the 248th Engineer Company, headquartered at the armory in the Norwich Industrial Park. The armory’s active ground reservists were scheduled for weekend training on Oct. 19-20, said Whitford. “If they pass a budget or a continuing resolution [prior to Oct. 19], that unit would be drilling” as scheduled, he said.
Also affected are budgets for contracts at the Guard’s aviation repair facility in Groton. Whitford said that 195 employees of the 300-worker force were contract employees, whose contracts are now unfunded and who have been furloughed since Oct. 1. “That’s $83,000 in lost wages per day,” he said.
At press time, a total of 1,000 Guard members statewide were unable to drill – and draw income – since the Oct. 1 start of the budget gridlock. But Whitford said that the budget uncertainty affects all 5,000 Guard members across the state. “We’re watching it very closely,” he said.
The Guard’s response to a potential natural disaster or other emergency is not affected by the budget impasse, Whitford said, since it comes from a “separate pot of money” in the state budget. “Connecticut residents can feel comfortable that we can respond very quickly to a state emergency,” he said.
Head Start, the federal program that boosts school readiness in children from low-income families, is still up and running locally. Deborah Monahan, executive director of Thames Valley Council for Community Action, which administers Head Start locally, said that the agency has an active grant in place running from April 2013 through March 2014, so funding is stable through that date.
The TVCC administers a Head Start program at its child care center in Taftville, which houses 130 children, and partners with the Griswold school system to run a Head Start program for 25 to 30 children in Griswold. A total of nearly 500 children are served by Head Start throughout New London County, Monahan said.
According to the TVCCA’s website, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program is operating for the time being on existing funds and was thus far unaffected. Clients of this program can check the website at http://www.ct.gov/dph/wic for updates on the situation.
Griswold Senior Center Director Tina Falck said that the budget impasse will adversely affect the upcoming Oct. 15 opening date for insurance enrollment. On that date, new applications are to be processed and changes to existing policies can be made, she said. But the Eastern Connecticut Area Agency on Aging’s Senior Resources online screening of medications for that enrollment may be stalled if no federal budget or contingency plan is in place.
“As we get closer to the enrollment period, the website would be where I would go” for updated information, she said. Clients can also call 1-800-MEDICARE for further information, but they should expect extended wait times on the phone, she said.