Shutdown causing headaches

By Keith Strange Staff Reporter

October 1, 2013

The federal government shutdown, which took effect at midnight Tuesday morning, has resulted in more confusion than anything, with some agencies shuttering operations and others scrambling to determine what the future will hold.

But recipients of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security will continue to receive their benefits, according to officials.

Harry Maney, interim director of the Department of Social Services (DSS), said the shutdown should not adversely affect recipients of food stamps or Medicaid.

“I don’t see any impact,” Maney said Tuesday morning. “I was involved in social services when the last shutdown occurred in 1996, and it didn’t directly affect any food stamp or welfare recipients. It’s going to impact people who want to do things like get passports and things like that, and it’s going to affect the processing of federal loans because of rules related to loan reviews, but there doesn’t seem to be any impact on the food stamp or Medicaid program.”

Maney said it is “business as usual” at the local DSS office.

“But with the rise in clients due to the poor economy, business as usual is pretty hectic for us,” he said.

As for recipients of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, things are a bit more up in the air.

According to an email that was sent to the local office by Josephine Cialone, head of the nutrition services branch of the North Carolina Division of Public Health, there will be some impact.

Cialone said the state nutrition department has enough in its coffers to cover services throughout the remainder of October, but what happens on Nov. 1, remains to be seen.

“There is a national conference call for state WIC directors (Tuesday) afternoon to discuss the WIC program’s federal budget and the potential options for states,” she continued in the email. “We are evaluating the impact of next… fiscal year’s budget on food benefits for our participants.”

Samantha Ange, director of the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, put it more succinctly.

“We’re going to be functioning and will operate through the month of October, but that’s all the feedback we’ve received so far,” she said.

Social Security checks will continue to go out as scheduled, according to the government’s website related to the shutdown, but limited services will be available.

Only the following services will be provided:

• Assistance with applying for benefits.

• Assistance with an appeal request.

• Change of address or direct deposit information.

• Acceptance of death reports.

• Changing citizenship status.

• Replacement of a lost or missing payment.

• Issuance of a critical payment.

• Changing a representative payee.

• Processing a change in living arrangements or income.

No new or replacement Social Security cards will be issued, no replacements of Medicare cards or proof of income cards will be issued.

As a result of the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offices on Cooper Street in Dobson have been closed, and the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District offices will only be reachable by calling Director Tony Davis at the county manager’s office at 401-8210.

But visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway would do well to stop at a bathroom before hitting the highway.

According to Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett, day use facilities like visitor’s centers and picnic areas have been closed.

“The roadway will be open to drive on, but there will be no gift shops or restrooms open,” he said.

Law enforcement and emergency services personnel will still be patrolling the parkway, and a “handful” of maintenance personnel will still be on the job to deal with issues like water treatment and wastewater management.

“The overnight accommodations like campgrounds and lodges are still open at this point, but if we go into Phase II, and that could be today, tonight or next month, they will be given 48 hours notice to vacate,” Stinnett said.

Out of 238 federal employees who man the parkway, only 43 are left on the job, he added.

Stinnett echoed what many seemed to be thinking.

“We just hope this is as short-lived as possible,” he said.

Other effects local residents might see include:

• The North Carolina Department of Transportation must immediately furlough 22 of its workers, who have yet to be identified, and up to 65 federally funded positions could be at risk soon;

• Federal legislator offices may be running on limited scheduled. Sen. Richard Burr, for example, stated today that his offices in Winston-Salem, Asheville, Gastonia, Rocky Mount, and Wilmington will be closed and constituent service operations will be temporarily suspended for the duration of the shutdown. He also said his Washington, D.C., office will operate limited public hours.

Reach Keith Strange at or 719-1929.