Government shutdown leaves agencies, people scrambling

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:55 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

As federal agencies scrambled to deal with a government shutdown, forced by a stalemate in Congress, the impact was immediately seen in some circles in Utah.

The impact of a cut in government spending and services was most noticeable among some of the most vulnerable.

State officials from the Department of Health posted closed signs on local health clinics dealing with the Women’s Infant and Children’s program (WIC) late Tuesday, which provides food and nutrition care and counseling for infant children.

Tom Hudachko, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Health, said the WIC program ran out of funding, and no new vouchers will be issued until the statement is resolved. He emphasized existing vouchers are good.

Hudachko said he had information as late as Sunday afternoon saying WIC wouldn’t be impacted by the shutdown, but that changed on Monday, when they were informed reserves would not be used to fund the existing program. The program services 66,000 people in the state.

The shutdown was also visible at all federal parks in the state, which were closed.

As of 4 p.m., approximately 30 to 40 people had gathered outside the South Gate of Hill Air Force Base to stage a protest. The gates to the Hill Field Aerospace Museum were locked to the visitors, and businesses near the three entrances HAFB also saw less traffic on the first day of the impasse.

Ian Walters, manager of the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Clearfield, said he had a heavy rush during lunch, but he noticed a difference in the crowd.

“I saw fewer people in fatigues today than I normally see,” Walters said of the crowd.

He said the KFC, which is just west of an entrance to Hill Air Force Base counts on base traffic.

Steven Leblanc of the DooDrop Inn in Layton, located near the base’s south entrance, saw a double impact from the shutdown. He said his girlfriend is currently on furlough from the Internal Revenue Service and he said he has seen fewer private contractors lately in the businesses, who work on base.

“Everyone is trying to figure it out,” Leblanc said of the shutdown.

The museum as HAFB wasn’t the only facility to close down.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspended most of its programs and operations, including public access to wildlife refuges and all activities on refuge lands.That meant a Top of Utah refuge in Brigham City was also closed.

The shutdown is expected to affect more than 7,000 service employees who will be furloughed until an appropriation is passed by Congress, Bruce Decker, a spokesperson for the wildlife service said.

In the meantime, Jill Atwood, director of public affairs for the Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health System, said local facilities will remain open during the shutdown. She said all claims and payments will be made through late October. However, she said a prolonged shutdown, could make funding unavailable to process those claims.

“In the event of a prolonged shutdown, VA will continue to review and update its plan in conjunction with the applicable legal requirements and circumstances,” Atwood said.

The shutdown also did not shut down the postal service. A postal worker at the counter in Layton told the Standard-Examiner that no one from that office had been furloughed and the lines waiting for service were ample testament to their being open for business.

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