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Local federal agencies hang up the ‘Closed’ sign

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wise County residents could soon feel the effects of the federal government’s shutdown – particularly if it drags on.

Facing an Oct. 1 deadline, the U.S. Congress was unable to come to an agreement on how to keep government agencies funded, resulting in a shutdown of most non-life-and-death federal government services.

Packing Up

PACKING UP – Denton residents LeeAnn and Carl Barr, with son Rowan, were enjoying a campout at Black Creek Lake at the LBJ National Grasslands Tuesday when they were told the government shutdown had caused the closure of the recreational area. Messenger photo by Brian Knox

Republicans in the House offered a plan that would fund the government but delay implementation of the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act for one year. Democrats countered with a plan that would keep the government funded, but they refused to alter the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

As a result, federal agencies began the shutdown process Tuesday morning, and all “non-essential” employees were placed on furloughs.

Locally, the action will affect several agencies under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That includes the U.S. Forest Service office in Decatur, which maintains the LBJ National Grasslands. On Monday, all media questions were referred to the Office of Management and Budget in Washington.

Signs were posted at the Forest Service office and at recreation areas such as Black Creek Lake Tuesday. A phone call to the office went unanswered Tuesday, but campers at Black Creek Lake said they were told the area was closed due to the shutdown.

“They came out this morning and said we could stay for 48 hours before we had to leave,” said Carl Barr of Denton, who was camping with his wife, son and two dogs. “They said to just watch our campfire closely.”

Barr said he was told the Forest Service would still patrol the area for fires.

The family had camped Monday night and had not heard the government was shutting down.

“We got here last night,” said Barr’s wife, LeAnn. “We didn’t even think about the park closing, actually.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offices in Decatur also had signs on the front door Tuesday explaining that they were closed due to a lack of federal funding. Those offices included the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Rural Development.

Laura Spain, veterans service officer for the county, said the local office hasn’t been affected since it is funded by the county, but many veterans have been calling with questions. She said all veterans’ medical facilities are still operating, but VA call centers will not be open during the shutdown.

The Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) has no more funding. According to a Texas Tribune article, Carrie Williams with the Texas Department of State Health Services said WIC rebate dollars will be used to fund the program for now, but those funds will quickly dry up if the shutdown continues past a few days.

Local Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which are funded with federal dollars, should be OK for now, according to Texas Neighborhood Services Executive Director Brad Manning.

“Texas Neighborhood Services Head Start and Early Head Start facilities have not been affected by the government shutdown at this time,” Manning wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday. “All services are currently being provided to children and families at our locations in Bridgeport, Boyd and both centers in Decatur.

“Should the government shutdown continue for an extended period of time, we would eventually see a disruption of services. The only Head Start/Early Head programs across the country experiencing service interruptions at this time are those whose grant year begins today.”

The shutdown did not have an effect on the Affordable Care Act, and the health insurance marketplaces opened for the first time on Tuesday. Texas residents can go to www.HealthCare.gov to see their options.

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