Now that the U.S. Government has partially shut down, anxiety and frustration among citizens across the United States is peaking.
Nobody knows how long the shutdown will last, depending on how long it takes Congress to pass a new spending bill. But, it seems that new information is coming out as each hour passes of how the shutdown is impacting this country.
Here's a glimpse of how the shutdown is affecting the CSRA.
The Savannah River Site
The Department of Energy recently announced that all but eight employees will be furloughed at the Savannah River Operations office and all but one employee will be furloughed from the SRS office if DOE suffers a lapse in appropriations.
The potential furloughs are part of DOE's implementation plan and is a response to the current government shutdown. DOE will continue to run for a short period of time, but will eventually be forced to take action if the federal government does not reach a resolution.
“As a result of the nature of DOE funding, the department will be able to operate for a short period of time after Sept. 30,” said Steven Thai from DOE public affairs. “However, if a resolution is not achieved in the near term, the department will be forced to take further action to shutdown nonessential operations, resulting in employee and contractor furloughs.”
Under DOE's plan, titled “Plan for Operating in the event of a Lapse in Appropriations,” several operational adjustments are addressed. These include plans and procedures for continuing operations using available balances from prior years; continuing only excepted functions related to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property; and initiating orderly shutdown of those activities not considered excepted.
“The administration strongly believes that Congress can quickly come to a resolution to fund the work necessary to American people,” Thai added. “This lapse in appropriations has serious impacts on the department's ability to carry out its mission.”
There has been nothing reported on the fate of SRS's contractors.
Army and Veteran's services
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center and Veteran's Services will remain open despite shutdown.
Under the shutdown, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, located at Fort Gordon, is open with all appointments scheduled as normal, according to Wes Elliott, public affairs officer.
“Under the provision that says for security and protection of life, we're able to keep most of our health care staff on,” Elliott said. “Now, there is still non-paid work status. About 85 percent of our people are still working in hospitals without pay. The only thing this should affect is elective surgeries; those may be delayed.”
While there will be some reduced staffing, health care providers will not be furloughed, and unless there is a threat to life or limb, certain elective medical or dental surgeries and procedures will be halted. Individuals who already made appointments will not have to cancel, while follow-up and management of existing conditions will continue to be provided.
Veterans Affairs medical facilities and clinics will remain fully operational during the government shutdown.
Surgeries, dental treatment, vet centers, nursing homes and mental health care, special health care services for women veterans and prescriptions will be available as well.
According to an announcement made by Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., medical centers, clinics and other health services have advance appropriations for 2014 and will remain open.
However, in the event of a longer government shutdown, claims processing and payments within specific programs would be suspended when available funding dries up. Robert Murphy, director of veteran and military student success at USC Aiken, said the 190 veterans and military family members they serve are very appreciative of Veterans Affairs and the push of information to which they have provided veterans.
“We are very appreciative the VA did push all of this information and provide us with a Veterans Field Guide to government shutdowns,” Murphy said. “All the payments for the entire month of October have been paid and will not affect anything with the bill. If it goes into November, it may be impacted. There might be some difficulties making those monthly payments of students going to school.”
For October, tuition is already paid. But if the shutdown continues into November, the money used for rent and food may be impacted while those veterans are going to school.
“The other side is health care with medical and disability benefits,” Murphy said. “Those numbers are huge in regard to the amount of VA personnel. A release came out that there were 21,237 in the workforce of the veterans benefits administration, and they are cutting it down to 307. We are very appreciative and confident all the benefits will be fine in October. It's just what will happen in November.”
The housing market
Security Federal Bank Executive Vice President Tony Ateca said the process of obtaining home loans through such government entities such as the Federal Housing Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture will stall due to the shutdown. But home loans through Veterans Affairs should not be impacted, Ateca said.
Tax transcripts that are typically required for underwriting loans are not accessible during the shutdown, Ateca added, because the employees of the IRS office that handles those files are now furloughed. He said that will complicate the process for any loan.
Ateca said that the shutdown came at a time when people were feeling a bit more comfortable with the idea of buying a home due to mortgage rates falling after they shot up several months ago. He said those in the real estate industry were predicting a peak in home sales, but the shutdown has put a bit of a damper on their excitement.
According to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, the average 30-year mortgage interest rate is 4.32 percent and 3.37 percent for 15-year mortgages. About a month ago, 30-year mortgage interest rates were an average of 4.57 percent and 3.58 percent for a 15-year loan.
Aiken Board of Realtors President Diane Miniard said there's currently plenty of inventory and good buys in Aiken, so news of the shutdown is disheartening as it could potentially present a few challenges. But those in the real estate business have persevered despite the market crashing a few years ago and having to familiarize their clients with all of the new lending programs and regulations associated with them.
Miniard said patience is key.
“We'll just have to wait this thing out,” Miniard said. “That's all we can do.”
Miniard added that if anyone is currently in the market for a home, they should touch base with a loan officer to learn more about the lending opportunities that may be affected by the current government situation.
The Housing and Urban Development Department in Columbia is also temporarily closed due to the shutdown. The department assists in the funding of housing authorities across the state.
Chanosha Lawton, deputy director with the Aiken Housing Authority, said that most of the funding has been allocated, and her organization has already received part of that money. Lawton said they haven't felt any immediate impact, but are unsure what the future holds if the shutdown lasts for an extended period of time.
Education, small businesses and WIC
Officials with the Aiken County School District, USC Aiken and Aiken Technical College don't expect any financial impact from the federal government shutdown.
Neither does the Small Business Development Center, which is housed at USCA and helps entrepreneurs expand their businesses or start new ones.
“We are not part of the federal fiscal year, but are on a calendar,” said Director Laura DiSano. “We're state employees, and the state matches our federal funds. We also get funds from ... Aiken County.
The center has spent its federal dollars, and now the organization is using its state and local funding, DiSano said.
“We're open for business,” she said. “If this goes on to January, it would affect us. But I have confidence this will blow over by then.”
On Monday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported it was informed that the Women, Infant and Children – or WIC – program is considered “non-essential” under the shutdown and will not receive federal funding. WIC clients are advised to continue using their vouchers as usual and WIC-approved vendors should continue to honor those vouchers, according to the department.
The department has identified some reserve funding to continue processing WIC vouchers at this time, but services will be interrupted and reimbursements will be discontinued on Oct. 15 unless the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases funds.
Aiken Standard reporters Derrek Asberry, Amy Banton, Teddy Kulmala, Rob Novit and Maayan Schechter contributed to this article.