News From Terre Haute, Indiana

News

October 8, 2013

Furlough ends for some federal workers

117 Air Guard technicians return to job; agriculture, ISU face increasing concerns

TERRE HAUTE — Furloughed Department of Defense technicians returned to work Monday at the Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Saturday that almost all of its 350,000 furloughed civilian workers would return to work. The move was based on an interpretation of a bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama that ensures uniformed members of the military will not have their paychecks delayed by the government shutdown.

The furlough had impacted 117 technicians at the 181st Intelligence Wing Indiana National Air Guard in Terre Haute. They are among about 1,000 DOD technicians statewide for the Indiana National Guard that had been impacted, making up about 50 percent of the Guard’s full-time force.

“Most of the [furloughed personnel] are back effective [Monday]. There are only a handful that aren’t back because of the specific functions that they perform,” said Lt. Col. Cathy Van Bree.

The federal government shutdown has affected the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has not released reports on futures for crops and livestock.

However, the short-term impact is minimal, but the impact could be significant if the shutdown continues for a long time, said Paul Stephens, commodity broker for ADM Investors Services in Oakland, Ill.

“Hogs, cattle and grain are still trading. We don’t see too much impact at the moment. The problem will be a lack of information as time goes on because the USDA reports are being canceled,” Stephens said.

“What it boils down to is we are kind of flying blind right at the moment. When we normally have these agriculture reports, it gives us a benchmark to work from, and that benchmark has now been taken away,” Stephens said.

“Everyone is still trading and making their own evaluations of what is going on. We haven’t seen any significant rally or downward turn develop yet because of the government shutdown,” Stephens said.

Kaye Whitlock, merchandiser for Terre Haute Grain/Gavilon Grain, said grain market prices are still being done by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, so farmers can still sell grain if they choose. However, if they “want to pay a loan off, they can’t do that because there is no one there [at a USDA office],” Whitlock said.

Whitlock said most farmers do not pay off loans until after the first of the year, adding that farmers are now concentrated on harvest. “The short-term impact is really almost nothing, except the markets are pretty quiet, as volume has gone down with less trading,” Whitlock said.

Indiana State University has begun to feel some of the impact of the federal shutdown.

As of Oct. 1, ISU had about $104,000 outstanding from federal grants and contracts, said Diann McKee, ISU vice president for business affairs. That’s how much ISU had submitted in drawdowns or for reimbursement and not received.

Also, no new awards for federal grants/contracts will be approved until the shutdown is over, she said.

According to Dawn Underwood of the Office of Sponsored Programs, grant proposals to the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and other federal agencies are delayed. ISU can continue spending grant funds on existing awards, “but we have been asked to be conservative in spending and to stay within the approved budget categories,” Underwood wrote in an email.

In the area of financial aid, applicants for Veterans Tuition Assistance are not being processed, according to Crystal Baker of the ISU Office of Financial Aid. She noted that the IRS has been affected by the shutdown, which may prevent some recent applicants from receiving federal financial aid — although more than 80 percent of applicants have already received their funds this semester.

“The longer this [federal shutdown] goes on, the more significant it becomes,” McKee said.

The new United Way of the Wabash Valley mobile market also has been somewhat impacted by the federal shutdown, said Troy Fears, United Way executive director.

The agency filed appropriate paperwork so that SNAP (food stamps) could be used to purchase fresh produce, but with the federal shutdown, it does not yet have the necessary approval, Fears said. “We’re still hopeful we will get it, but we understand there will be a delay.”

Only a few mobile market customers have wanted to use food stamps, he said.

Also affected by the shutdown, Social Security offices are open but with limited services. “Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments to beneficiaries will continue with no change in payment dates,” according to the Social Security website.

Services that continue include helping people apply for benefits and assisting them in requesting an appeal.

The offices cannot provide the following services during the shutdown: issue new or replacement Social Security cards; replace Medicare cards; issue a proof of income letter.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@tribstar.com.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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