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Government shutdown: Some local services will be affected

JUSTIN SELLERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — A sign hangs on the gate of the Natchez National Historical Park, which is closed because of the federal government shutdown Tuesday. All National Park Service facilities, as well as other federal agencies, are closed indefinitely.
JUSTIN SELLERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — A sign hangs on the gate of the Natchez National Historical Park, which is closed because of the federal government shutdown Tuesday. All National Park Service facilities, as well as other federal agencies, are closed indefinitely.

NATCHEZ — For those in the Miss-Lou waking up to day 2 of the federal government shutdown, it may affect some services you receive, but others will not be impacted.

Congress plunged the nation into a partial government shutdown Tuesday as a protracted dispute over President Obama’s signature health care law reached a boiling point, forcing some 800,000 federal workers off the job.

The health care law itself was unaffected as enrollment opened Tuesday for millions of people shopping for medical insurance.

Several government services have been affected, however.

Below is a list of offices and services that have been impacted by the shutdown and some of those that remain unaffected:

Social security, Medicaid and Medicare

Social security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits will not be affected by the shutdown. The government will continue Social Security benefits and Medicare and Medicaid fees to doctors on time.

Food stamps

Food stamps recipients should remain unaffected by the shutdown.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps, will continue operations, and eligible households will still receive monthly benefits for October, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA says approximately $2 billion in contingency funding is also available and could be used to support State Administrative activities essential to continue the program and issue and process benefits.

That funding does not expire until the end of the 2014 fiscal year.

WIC

The SNAP program for women, infants and children, or WIC, will not receive funding during the shutdown, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier said MSDH is “exploring various options and solutions to maintaining operations in the coming weeks.”

This federal notification affects mothers, infants, children and families along with several hundred MSDH employees, Currier said.

For now, until further notice, Mississippi’s WIC Centers will remain open and services will be available throughout the state. The ability to maintain services will be evaluated on a weekly basis.

WIC is a supplemental food program for pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum women, infants and children under five years of age.

Currently, the program has 95 distribution sites throughout the state and serves 91,000-93,000 clients each month, according to MSDH.

U.S. mail

The U.S. Postal Service will continue to deliver mail. USPS does not receive any tax dollars for day-to-day operations.

School services

Natchez-Adams County School District Superintendent Frederick Hill said the district has not received any notification that school meals nor any other federal services to the district will be impacted by the shutdown.

Head Start

AJFC Community Action Agency Chief Executive Officer Sandra Sewell said the shutdown has not yet directly impacted Head Start or any of the agency’s other programs.

Sewell said the agency and its clients are being affected, however, by the closure of other government offices.

“If anything occurs where we have to contact a (furloughed) representative or someone who works in Washington, then we’re not going to be able to reach them,” she said.

Sewell said the agency sometimes requires its clients provide documentation from other government agencies for programs. The shutdown could affect clients’ access to those documents, Sewell said.

Natchez National Historical Park

Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said 18 park employees were sent home indefinitely Tuesday because of the shutdown.

The park and the William Johnson House, as well as all 401 of the country’s national parks, are closed to visitors, and the employees will remain furloughed until the shutdown is over, Jenkins said.

“We’re very disappointed we can’t do our jobs, especially during Fall Pilgrimage when we’re seeing in the neighborhood of 100 people a day,” she said.

Jenkins said the NPS has no choice but to wait out the shutdown.

“We’re hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” she said.

Melrose and the William Johnson House host 80-100 visitors on average each day in October, Jenkins said. Nationally, more than 715,000 visitors a day frequent the National Park System. Nationwide, the NPS stands to lose approximately $450,000 per day in lost revenue from fees collected at entry stations and fees paid for in-park activities such as cave tours, boat rides and camping. Gateway communities across the country see about $76 million per day in total sales from visitor spending that is lost during a government shutdown, Jenkins said.

Natchez Trace Parkway

Acting Superintendent Dale Wilkerson said 130 Natchez Trace Parkway employees have been furloughed, approximately 10 to 15 percent of which work in the Natchez area.

The parkway road will remain open during the shutdown, Wilkerson said, but its facilities will be closed. Restrooms, campgrounds and visitors’ centers will be closed, he said.

Parkway law enforcement will continue to patrol the parkway, Wilkerson said.

“We want to be sure the public continues to use the motor road in the safest way possible,” Wilkerson said. “Law enforcement officers are still out there, so please don’t go around any closed barricades or attempt to access facilities that are locked.

“We would appreciate everyone’s cooperation.”

Taxes

Taxes should be filed and paid as normal. Those who received a six-month extension must still file their returns by Oct. 15.

The Internal Revenue Service, however, will not issue tax refunds until the government resumes normal operations.

Natchez Federal Courthouse

Clerk of the U.S. District Court Southern District of Mississippi J.T. Noblin said the federal courthouse in Natchez will remain open during the shutdown, and court operations will continue.

 

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