|Shutdown hits home|
|Written by ALEX ASPACHER Sentinel Staff Writer|
|Thursday, 03 October 2013 10:21|
It's tough to find the silver lining in a shutdown of the federal government.
Uncertainty surrounding its impact is cited as the most widespread consequence so far. But the worst is likely yet to come.
Severe effects haven't resulted yet, but agency leaders agree an ongoing shutdown of the federal government could be disrupting if not harmful to people in Wood County.
Local veterans, however, have more immediate cause for concern. An Honor Flight to Washington D.C. scheduled for next week could shuttle them to monuments that may not be accessible, and benefits could lapse if government turmoil continues through the month.
The National World War II Memorial and other monuments were blocked by barricades and signs earlier in the week, prompting some vets to risk arrest for trespassing and break through to see the sites that honor their service.
An Honor Flight with about 70 area veterans is slated to head to the capital Wednesday. The airplane and buses are chartered, meals are paid for and some have come from as far as California to escort their family members on the trip.
There's hope a "precedent" was set by widespread publicity surrounding those veterans who threw caution to the wind to visit the monuments, but a decision won't be made until Friday whether to postpone or cancel the flight, according to Dave Chilson, spokesperson for Honor Flight Northwest Ohio.
For now, the trip is still on, but altering the plans could result in financial penalties, he said. Each Honor Flight costs the nonprofit organization about $72,000.
"We're going to do everything we can to make this flight happen as scheduled," Chilson said. "We do this for them. It's their day, their trip, their turn to be recognized, thanked and honored, and we want to see that happen as scheduled."
Veterans' benefits are also at risk during a prolonged shutdown. While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has funds available to continue providing benefits though October, ongoing squabbles in Congress threaten those payments as early as next month.
Claims assistance does remain available for student veterans through a VA office at Bowling Green State University. Thanks to a federal grant, that office has a regional representative available to help with benefits, and that person has not yet been a target of government furloughs, according to Barbara Henry, assistant vice president for nontraditional and transfer student services.
Henry said the immediate impact on student veterans should be minimal, though university staff are meeting today to determine whether a longer shutdown could change that.
Ripples from Washington have also reached the Perrysburg school system, where contract negotiations between teachers and administrators could be derailed.
Superintendent Tom Hosler said the sides are set to meet with a federal mediator twice next week, but that won't happen unless Congress agrees to fund the government.
Effects on the local agencies that rely on federal funding aren't as pronounced but could become more severe if the shutdown continues into weeks or months.
Martha Gonzales, director of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program administered through the Wood County Health District, said after a conference call Wednesday that the state isn't yet sure how the program might be affected immediately.
WIC provides vouchers for pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who recently had children, and infants and children themselves, which can be exchanged for healthy foods like milk, fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products and brown rice.
It serves about 1,500 county residents and operates on a fiscal year that began Tuesday, when the shutdown began, so the money to operate it is in place, Gonzales said.
"At this time, we're fine. We have funding and are operating as usual," she said.
Wood County Job and Family Services administers a wide range of programs, many funded through the various federal sources. Director Dave Wigent concurred that while things will be fine for now, the future isn't as certain if Congressional gridlock continues.
"We're somewhat insulated from the immediate effect," he said. "The shutdown would have to go on for probably months before it would affect us at the county level."
If it did, Wigent explained, there could be shortfalls in services that affect many county residents, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, cash assistance for low-income families, and a great deal of programs surrounding children's services.
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