October 3, 2013

Local impact of federal shutdown expected to be limited

Charles Oliver

— While scenes of the federal government shutdown dominate the national headlines, many local officials don’t expect it to have much of an impact on the services they provide or their operations.

“It should not directly affect us,” said Murray County Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman. “We do have some grant dollars (for economic development) that we have applied for. The shutdown could slow down that process, especially if it goes on for some time. And we do have Carters Lake. That’s operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, and they have closed down the public areas.”

Dalton City Administrator Ty Ross said the shutdown could affect work being done under a federal contract to remove trees from the flight line at Dalton Municipal Airport.

“We still don’t have a notice to proceed from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration),” he said. “If this drags out, we might see a delay there. But that’s the only impact that I am aware of.”

Whitfield County Administrator Mark Gibson said the shutdown hasn’t had any impact on county operations yet.

“At this point we are fully functional. Should the shutdown be prolonged and the federal agencies that distribute funding to local governments such as our own be slowed or stop completely then it certainly would,” he said.

There have been 17 federal shutdowns since 1977, according to the Congressional Research Service. Most lasted no more than one day. The longest lasted 21 days, from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 5, 1996.

The federal government did shut off new funding to Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides food and other necessities for low-income mothers and their children. But so far, WIC programs in Georgia continue to have funds.

“At this time, Georgia WIC is operating business as usual,” said Nancy Nydam, media relations manager for the Georgia Department of Public Health. “The Georgia Department of Public Health and Georgia WIC are working on steps to keep WIC operating for as long as possible.”

Local school officials say they don’t expect the shutdown to affect their operations.

“We really don’t have a lot of information on how the federal shutdown will impact us except that the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE) has informed us that the impact of the shutdown should be limited as related to federal grant funds,” said Pat Holloway, director of communications for Dalton Public Schools. “Because the majority of the funds provided for state fiscal year 2014 are actually from federal fiscal year 2012 carryover and federal fiscal year 2013 appropriations, we should not be greatly impacted by the lapse. ... The GDOE has also indicated that Race to the Top Funds are exempt from the shutdown. That’s about all we know thus far.”

Officials at Whitfield County Schools and Murray County Schools say they also aren’t expecting any impact, at least not immediately.

“We do get some federal funding, but for the most part, that’s reimbursement for money we spend locally first,” said Whitfield County Schools spokesman Eric Beavers. “And we usually don’t draw down any of that federal money until November.”

Medicare, the federal health care program for senior citizens, isn’t affected by the shutdown. And Hamilton Health Care System spokesman Daryl Cole said officials there don’t believe the shutdown will have an impact on the system’s operations, which include Hamilton Medical Center.