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Pagosa affected by Federal shutdown

Staff Writer 

The federal government shutdown that took effect Tuesday after Congress failed to pass a budget before the beginning of the new fiscal year has affected local government employees, agencies and patrons.

As workers are furloughed, the services they provide to the local community have become limited. Some of the agencies affected include the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Nutrition services provided to residents via the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will also be affected as supporting state funds dwindle.

Although the Veterans Service Office and the services it provides remain largely unaffected at this time, a longer government shutdown could slow or bring certain veteran services to a halt.

The funding for the USFS, BLM and NRCS is reviewed and appropriated annually. As this process had not been carried out by Oct. 1, these agencies and their offices closed due to inability to pay public service employees.

Due to office closure, The SUN was unable to contact district ranger Kevin Khung to discuss the effect of the shutdown on local USFS employees and services. All USFS campgrounds in the area are closed to visitors, as are the nearby Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Parks. Chimney Rock National Monument is also closed to visitors and the USFS Chimney Rock National Monument Plan open house originally scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 3, has been postponed until further notice.

The SUN was also unable to contact the local NRCS office as they are closed and currently unable to provide usual technical assistance services to local farmers, ranchers, private land owners and managers.

Employees of the BLM Tres Rios Field Office were also unavailable due to furloughs. At this time, office services, including processing of oil and gas drilling permits, are suspended.

The federally funded and state operated WIC food assistance program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not yet received funding for the new fiscal year. WIC services will continue to be provided until allocated state funds run out, at which time services will slow and may cease. The federal food stamp and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) programs will continue to function normally.

The SUN was able to speak with Raymond Taylor at the Veterans Service Office to discuss possible effects of the shutdown. As Taylor is a county employee, his services to the community will continue at the office. He explained that, unlike other effected agencies, no annual act of Congress is required to refinance the Veterans Service Office. Instead, funding from the previous fiscal year carries over into the new fiscal year. This carryover process is currently in progress. Despite a lack of immediate effects on the office, a shutdown that lasts past mid-October could begin to have an effect on veteran services as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs runs out of funding used to provide jobs and services such as processing VA home loans that require review of records. A longer shutdown could also result in the disruption of disability payments and limited availability of vocational and educational counseling services. Despite possible slowdowns, the VA will continue to provide health care and pension benefits to veterans.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment released Tuesday that furloughed federal workers in Colorado will likely be eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits. For more information, or to file a claim online, workers can go to www.coloradoui.gov. Payment to citizens currently receiving unemployment benefits will not be disrupted during the shutdown.

Dana.Hayward@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on October 3, 2013.