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Archive for Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Effects of federal shutdown being felt in Lawrence, Douglas County

October 9, 2013

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An estimated 1,600 women and children in Douglas County who receive food assistance through the Women, Infants and Children program are being told that program could run out of money by the end of the month if the federal government shutdown continues past that point.

That's just one of the potential impacts that local residents could feel if the shutdown, which enters its 10th day Thursday, is not resolved, according to state, federal and local officials.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced Wednesday that the WIC program has only enough money to run through the end of October. KDHE said it has directed local offices not to issue WIC checks in November and beyond if the shutdown does not end before then.

WIC is a federal program administered through state and local health departments. It provides food assistance, nutrition education and breastfeeding support to about 70,000 low-income women and children in Kansas each month, including about 1,600 in Douglas County.

Congressional standoff

The shutdown began Oct. 1, the first day of the federal fiscal year, after the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives refused to pass a spending bill that would keep the government running unless the bill also defunded, or delayed the start of, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama both refused to accept that. The Senate passed what was called a “clean” spending resolution that the House refused to vote on. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has refused to form a conference committee with the House, saying, “We will not go to conference with a gun to our head.”

Margie Wakefield, a Lawrence attorney who is challenging U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the 2nd District race, said Jenkins, R-Topeka, is at the center of the government shutdown. She noted that Jenkins is vice chairwoman of the House GOP Conference and, thus, “is a leader in forcing this shutdown.”

But Jenkins blamed President Obama for the shutdown, saying he refuses to negotiate with Republicans.

Universities affected

Meanwhile, officials at Haskell Indian Nations University, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Interior, said the school can remain open “into the foreseeable future” using cash reserves from a private donation that the university keeps for just such an emergency.

“Normally we don't touch it,” Stephen Prue, an assistant in the university president's office, said of the reserve fund. “Currently we're kind of like the rest of America, watching the news and seeing what's going on and hoping this will soon be resolved.”

At Kansas University, the shutdown threatens to derail three research projects in Antarctica, two by the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, or CreSIS, and one by a professor of paleobiology.

The National Science Foundation has said that when its funding runs out on Oct. 14, it will cut most of the staffing at Antarctic research stations, including McMurdo Station, a critical hub of logistical support for most scientific fieldwork on the southern polar continent.

Clinton Lake

At Clinton Lake, which is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a popular campground that is normally open this time of year sits empty.

Sue Gehrt, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manager at Clinton Lake, said the Corps so far has had to refund more than $3,200 to people who had reserved campsites at Cedar Ridge West, a group campground that is on the federal portion of the lake area.

“People have been very understanding and, of course, disappointed,” Gehrt said of the public's reaction. “One lady had a grandson who'd never been camping before, and they were very disappointed. Most people have been super nice.”

The other federally owned campgrounds at the lake were scheduled to close for the season Oct. 1 anyway, she said. Only Cedar Ridge West remains open, typically through Oct. 15. Meanwhile, campgrounds at the lake owned and operated by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism remain open.

Gehrt is one of two corps employees at Clinton Lake still on the job during the furlough to monitor the dam and maintain safety. Eight other federal employees at the lake have been furloughed.

City and farm programs

Lawrence city officials say the shutdown threatens to disrupt federal funding of the city's transit system.

That system receives about $140,000 per month in federal operating funds that are being withheld because of the shutdown.

That hasn't yet caused any reduction in services for the city's T bus service or para transit service. But transit administrator Bob Nugent said a prolonged shutdown would require the city to make some decision about service levels.

"If the shutdown starts to get to the 30-day mark, I would start evaluating what our service priorities would be," Nugent said.

Officials at the Kansas Rural Center said the shutdown is also delaying a $35,000 Specialty Crops Block Grant they planned to receive through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help Kansas farmers in the production of fruits and vegetables.

KRC director Julie Mettenberg said the project is time sensitive because it was planned to coincide with certain growing seasons.

“If they get their act together we can get it back on track,” she said. “That'd be great.”

— Reporters Giles Bruce, Scott Rothschild, Chad Lawhorn and Ben Unglesbee contributed to this story.

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1 year, 4 months ago

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Hazel Ripstra 1 year, 4 months ago

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