Long-term government shutdown threatens local services

Local government officials warn that a long-term government shutdown could lead to potential delays, backlogs and even a disruption of vital services.

As Monday night’s partial shutdown of the federal government – the first in 17 years – leaves more than 800,000 federal employees furloughed and a federal budget up in the air, Chautauqua County officials remain wary of potential effects to local government services.

“(The shutdown) is not going to be significant in the short-term,” said Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards. “(But a long-term shutdown) could potentially impact a number of services that rely heavily on federal funds or manpower.”

Veterans, for example, who are seeking health, pension, disability or education benefits may have to endure longer wait times, as furloughed federal employees can no longer process their electronic applications.

The New York Army and Air National Guard, with its furloughed maintenance and administrative technicians, will potentially have their unit readiness stymied.

“Broken vehicles, pay problems, promotions issues-all of this will have to be deferred (causing heavy backlogs),” said Eric Durr, director of public affairs for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.

Local social services that could be affected include Women, Infant and Children, or WIC, and the Office for the Aging, which both rely on federal funds for their services.

“This is very concerning to us,” said MaryAnn Spanos, director of Office for the Aging. “Our major source of funding is the Older Americans Act and the shutdown has (stalled its reauthorization).” The act allows for a number of services including home-delivered meals, transportation for the elderly and personnel training.

Both agencies insist that a long shutdown will scale back services as state and local funds get depleted.

“The immediate concern is cash flow,” said Roberta Keller, executive director of Chautauqua Opportunities Inc., an organization that provides a range of social services to combat poverty. “People depend on these services to live.”

Keller says the shutdown will not affect the local Head Start program.

“This is crazy,” Keller said. “I don’t believe shutting down the government should be used as a bargaining tool.”

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