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Shutdown touches McCreary

By Greg Bird
birdman@tmcvoice.com

 

As the partial  government  shutdown enters in to its second month, the impact of furloughed federal workers and closings of federal offices is starting to be felt in McCreary County.

Signs at federal buildings, such as the U.S. Forest Service Office in Whitley City, operated by the United States Department of Agriculture, state the office is closed due to the “lapse in federal government funding,” and will reopen once the funding is restored.
While many citizens see little direct impact of the shutdown, others, such as federal employees may have been temporarily out of work or missing paychecks due to the loss of funding. As the shutdown continues, the reach extends further and further in to some public and governmental agencies in McCreary County. We spoke to several of these agencies to see what impact, if any, the shutdown is having on their operations.
McCreary County Judge Executive Jimmie “Bevo” Greene said the county government has yet to see any immediate impacts from the partial shutdown, but he does expect a decrease in Occupational Tax receipts for the month due to some federal employees not receiving paychecks for the duration of the closure.
According to the McCreary County Occupational Tax Office about $30,000 a month comes in from federal employee payroll taxes.
The closures and furloughs also impact local businesses as federal workers have to stretch their dollars, cutting out unnecessary purchases and spending less than they typically would.
Beyond the federal employees, other McCreary County residents could soon feel the pinch of the shutdown.
The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced last week that February Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) benefits would be released early to recipients to assist with helping families through the shutdown. While many see the early receipt of the money a blessing, it could prove troublesome for some families as that money is expected to last an additional two weeks, making it even more difficult to stretch the food dollar.
The program is administered through the federal USDA Food and Nutrition Service and there is no guarantee that if the shutdown continues any further that there will be funding available for March and beyond.
The USDA notes the average benefit for an individual under the program is $1.40 per meal – less than $6 a day.
Additionally the Woman, Infants and Children nutrition Program (WIC) is funded through the end of February, but no word on funding past that point.
The McCreary County School District could face an issue in the coming month with the school lunch program. Superintendent Michael Cash said this week that he has received word from the Commissioner of Education that funding for free and reduced lunch programs from the Department of Agriculture is only funded through the end of March. Cash stated that if the shutdown continued past that point the District would have to look at paying for lunches out of the General Fund to ensure students have their required meals.
Other federal school funding, such as Title I, do not appear to be affected at this point, Cash said.
Stephen Whitaker, Superintendent for the McCreary County Water District said his office has not seen much impact from the shut-down. The waterline replacement project slated for the Stearns/Smithtown area has been placed on hold – awaiting the re-opening of the Rural Development program. That delay will not affect the timeline, however, as no work was scheduled this winter due to the weather conditions. The plan is to hopefully resume the project in the spring.
The Water District’s largest customer, U.S.P. McCreary, has issues beyond correctional workers not being paid. The shutdown has impacted their ability to pay utility bills, but will not result in interruption in service.
Whitaker said the prison has an agreement with the district to prevent any shut-down of service in times of government closures. Whitaker said the agreement with the federal agency will allow water service to operate, despite non-payment, but the Bureau of Prisons will pay interest on any overdue payments.
Other utility companies have pledged to work with furloughed employees on delaying bill payments until the shutdown has ended, as well as with the institutions themselves.
Joy Bullock, of South Kentucky RECC, stated the company is working with the federal account holders and workers to maintain active accounts throughout the shutdown. Bullock said RECC would not disconnect power from an institution or employee, and will also waive any penalties. She did state that the utility does ask customers to notify their branch office that they are a furloughed federal employee so the account can be noted.
“We are trying to help them out as much as possible,” Bullock said.
U.S.P. McCreary is reportedly operating as close to normal, but the Federal Bureau of Prisons has furloughed half of their 36,0000 staff across the country, and those who remain on the job are being asked to do so without pay.
The Voice reached out to U.S.P. McCreary for more information on the effects of the shutdown on the local facility, but had not received an official response as of press time.

Brandon Pfeilmeier, Center Director, for the Pine Knot Job Corps, said the center, along with other Job Corps centers across the United States are operating as normal and enrolling students. He also confirmed no employees have missed a paycheck.
“There has been a very limited impact,” Pfeilmeier said. “Fortunately we are on a different budget cycle and are funded through the end of June.”
The Director could not speculate what may happen if the shut down continues past the end of the fiscal year.
So while the shutdown has had only marginal effects on McCreary County so far, it is evident that the longer it lasts, the worse it will be for our local economy.

 

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