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The budget: Impacts of federal shutdown will hinge on its duration

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Effects of the federal government shutdown were felt immediately in Georgetown County.

Though relatively minor in number, some federal employees began furloughs due to the failure of the U.S. House and Senate to reach a compromise on a spending bill before Tuesday. Government websites explained that agencies like the National Weather Service were operating only to protect lives and property.

Lt. Paul Reinhart, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, said all services considered critical will be maintained, including search and rescue operations at sea and security at the port. “Each operational commander has the leeway to maintain his top-level mission,” Reinhart said. “There will be no impact to providing safety and security among uniformed personnel. We will continue to do the big things we do.”

Debbie London, manager of the Social Security office in Georgetown, said she could make no comments about the government closures, but the agency’s website said people could still apply for benefits, request an appeal, change their address or set up a direct deposit. Services not available include verifying benefits, correcting an earnings record or getting an original or replacement Social Security card. Social Security benefits will continue to be paid. London said people should go to socialsecurity.gov to find if services they want are available.

Housing lenders could be affected if the shutdown drags on for more than a week. When they consider a mortgage application, lenders pull borrower tax records directly from the IRS.

“We are taking two applications today with closings set for Oct. 30,” said Leigh Reid-Hope of First Trust Mortgage. “We can’t close if the IRS can’t verify the tax records.”

She said lenders are still processing loans but the shutdown will affect every bank. “They will all be standing in line as soon as the IRS opens,” Reid-Hope said. “We are trying not to stop business.”

Bob Martin at Palmetto Heritage Bank said IRS verification delays could resort in additional fees to extend loan applications that are expiring.

Drew Johnson at South Atlantic Bank expects the short-term impact of the shutdown to be minimal. “If it drags on,” he said, “it would be much greater. FHA and USDA loans could be delayed, and conventional loans could be too if tax transcripts or Social Security benefits can’t be verified. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, depending on how long it lasts.”

While Wendy Allen at the National Estuarine Research Reserve at Hobcaw Barony is a state employee, she can’t communicate with her colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We work directly with our NOAA colleagues,” Allen said. “The longer this goes on the more impact we will feel. We are in the middle of planning and preparation for a national meeting scheduled in November.”

Georgetown County Airport will function normally during the shutdown, according to Ray Funnye, the county’s director of public works. “We don’t anticipate any negative impacts at the airport,” he said. “In fact, we are working with our colleagues, the Federal Aviation Administration in Atlanta on a grant.”

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No additional federal funds will be available to support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children’s clinical services, food benefits and administrative costs, according to a memo sent out by U.S. Department of Agriculture last week. The agency’s website was not available “due to the lapse in federal government funding.”

WIC gives grants to states for supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant women, new mothers and to infants and children up to age 5 who are nutritionally at risk. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said reserve funding should be able to continue the WIC program through Oct. 15. After that, services would end until the USDA releases funding to states.

The S.C. Department of Social Services, which provides food stamps to state residents through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, released a statement saying that the federal shutdown no immediate effects on DSS services in South Carolina. The statement said officials would update the public of any changes. SNAP benefits are expected to continue throughout October.

The shutdown also caused all areas of the National Park and National Wildlife Refuge Systems, including the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, to close. According to a press release from the Waccamaw NWR, public access to service properties are prohibited and fish and wildlife management activities and public programs are canceled during the shutdown.

The Georgetown County School District gets about $2.5 million in federal funds to provide programs for low-income students, disabled students and for career education.

“Our money was appropriated earlier,” said Lisa Johnson, the district finance director. “We don’t see any big red flags.”

If the shutdown continues, the likely effect will be delays in getting reimbursements.

“It’s not unusual for these checks to be a little slow,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “We have a good reserve.”

The only employees who will be affected will be ROTC instructors, Dozier said. But he promised, “they will get paid.” There are six at three high schools.

Coastal Montessori Charter School is applying for a $5 million loan from the federal Rural Development agency, part of the Department of Agriculture, to buy property at the Prince George tract and build a new school. It is also awaiting final approval of environmental permits for the 100-acre site.

Unless the shutdown drags on, it shouldn’t have an impact on the school’s plans, said Kristin Bohan, a board member who is working on the loan application.

“Hopefully, federal employees will be allowed to return to work by next week and we can wrap up this last environmental permit,” Bohan said.

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