September 23, 2014
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City feels few effects of shutdown...so far
Jennifer Rodrigues

Despite all the talk and worry over the government shutdown, the effect in Warwick and throughout Rhode Island has been minimal so far.

“There has been no curtailment of any city services due to the federal government shutdown,” said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian. “And I would not expect to see any visible change in city services as Congress works their way through this.”

A number of services from the federal government were shutdown after midnight on Monday because Congress was unable to come to an agreement about a funding bill. House Republicans were looking to add a measure to delay the start of Obamacare, something Senate Democrats refused to agree to. While many federal offices were closed because of the shutdown on Tuesday, Obamacare went into effect regardless.

In a statement released Tuesday, Governor Lincoln Chafee called for an end to the shutdown in the name of the economy.

“I believe that Rhode Island, and indeed the United States, cannot afford a federal shutdown over a budget impasse and health care reform, which is the law of the land,” said Chafee. “Congress needs to work together and develop a viable solution.”

Because of the shutdown, national parks, monuments and museums are closed. New applications for small business loans are halted. The National Institutes of Health will not accept new patients in clinical trials and research into diseases funded by the federal government will stop.

While the effects of the shutdown may go unnoticed by many Rhode Islanders, some offices and organizations have changed the way they operate because of the shutdown.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s website is shut down and no one answered the phone at the Rhode Island State Office of the Farm Service Agency on Quaker Lane. The Providence Field Office of the Housing and Urban Development is also closed; an answering machine prompt says the office is closed until the shutdown is over.

While those two offices are closed, others are still open, operating on limited staff and service.

For example, while mortgages through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Office of Veterans Affairs are expected to remain the same, there is expected to be a delay in service due to many staff members in these offices being sent home.

The Social Security field offices are open, but according to their website, they are operating with “limited service.” Field offices will not be able to issue new or replacement social security cards, issue replacement Medicare cards, or issue proof of income letters.

However, field offices will still be open to help people apply for benefits, assist in appeal requests, change in address, direct deposit, citizenship, representative payee, living arrangement or income, accept reports of death, replace lost or missing payments, and issue critical payments. Online services remain functioning, and social security and supplemental security income payments will continue with no change expected.

The National Guard is one organization that was forced to furlough 300 civilian technicians throughout the state, including at the base in Warwick. Public Information Officer Lt. Col. Peter Parente explained that when the furlough order came down, the state needed to look at personnel and determine who needed to remain working for the National Guard to operate properly.

Parente explained that the Rhode Island National Guard has 725 full-time guardsmen, but only 300 are active-duty military. “Active-duty guardsman will continue to get paid in full and on time,” said Parente.

The other 425, however, were required to be deemed essential personnel to remain working during the shutdown. Parente explained that to be deemed essential, they must meet one of three criteria: A position that supports the preservation of the National Guard, those supporting pre-deployment for those serving overseas, and key positions that ensure operations run smoothly. He estimated that approximately 100 civilian technicians are working on a full-time basis.

Those furloughed include any position from mechanic and office workers to those in leadership positions.

“There is no discrimination,” said Parente. “We have some pretty high-up leadership positions that have been furloughed.”

Luckily, Parente does not expect any more jobs are at risk should this shutdown continue.

“We have no information on any more people dropping out. As long as they fit those three criteria, we should be good number-wise,” he said.

Another Warwick-based organization feeling the weight of this government shutdown on their backs is Westbay Community Action.

“Right now, we are gathering information from state offices,” said Jeanne Gattegno, CEO of Westbay. “We’re trying to maintain business as usual as we watch.”

Gattegno said no services have been cancelled and their doors are still open, however the organization relies heavily on government funds so there is no telling if that will change if the shutdown is indefinite.

“If it’s a two-week shutdown, it will probably just be a bump in the road,” said Gattegno, who also said the organization is looking internally to see if changes can be made to help down the road.

Part of the relief is that Westbay is still operating on their 2013 funds through the end of October.

“That money is already in the state,” said Gattegno, adding that they are going ahead submitting paperwork for 2014 funding, however that could be affected by a prolonged shutdown. “But at what point we will be paid or the state will respond, we don’t know.”

While no programs have ceased, Gattegno has been required to make changes to service, such as with the USDA’s WIC program, which provides food to pregnant women, infants and young children under the age of 5. Westbay normally provides vouchers on a three-month basis, but they have been told to allocate on a two-month basis because that is the funding available.

“Of course, everyone is hoping this stalemate will be resolved,” said Gattegno. “I hope we never get to the point where I have to make the decision to stop services.”

Avedisian seems to believe it will never make it to that point.

“I cannot believe that there is no way to get the parties together to reach a compromise,” said the mayor.


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