Fed shutdown having minor local impact

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The federal government’s partial shutdown has furloughed federal employees and slowed down payments and processes for a number of agencies and organizations, but has had little impact so far countywide yet.

Beaverhead County Commissioner Mike McGinley said the shutdown has not impacted county services - but there could be a problem if it continues. Specifically, the county’s $900,000 Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding could be delayed. A large portion of that, approximately $600,000, goes to the road department.

University of Montana Western students are not seeing a huge impact either right now, though the shutdown does cause some issues with hiring, Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Michael Reid said. The shutdown has slowed down background checks for staffing issues, which run through the Department of Homeland Security. And financial aid applications are able to move forward, but students who have registered with the Selective Service have to go through an additional step or two to get the registration proof. That proof is required for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“The only thing impacting our students is this one piece,” he said.

There is currently no impact on Beaverhead County Public Health Department’s operations, Director Sue Hansen said. But the agency does receive federal funding for some programs, so if the shutdown continues, “we could see some ripple effects down to our clinic.” The state’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is estimated to be running through February, she added.

Beaverhead County Sheriff Paul Craft said there has been no impact to his department’s operations because of the shutdown at this time.

The Bureau of Land Management, however, has a large portion of its staff on furlough, and the local representative is one of them. U.S. Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Tara Rigler could not say how this will impact pending oil and gas leases on BLM land in Beaverhead County, currently scheduled for March.

The BLM, which manages more than 245 million acres of public land and administers more than 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate in the country, is operating under a “contingency plan.” The plan indicates public lands will remain accessible to the public, but not all services will be available during the shutdown. The BLM would furlough approximately 7,000 of its 9,260 employees in the shutdown, according to the plan.

Approximately 500 employees would be “excepted” in a shutdown and may have to continue to work without pay; those employees would likely be in law enforcement and other activities necessary “to protect life and property that are not otherwise exempt,” according to the plan. Those other activities include necessary functions such as budget, procurement, communications, and associated finance, acquisition, and information technology services; emergency response; fire preparedness and suppression; inspections and enforcement for oil and gas and logging operations; rights-of-way contracts; and the management of wild horse and burro holding facilities.

U.S. Forest Service employees are also furloughed, as Madison District Ranger Dale Olson told a working group of recreation and hunting officials Jan. 9.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services public information officer and Beaverhead County Treasurer Cathy Hucke could not be reached for comment.