by Phillip Manning ~ October 10th, 2013
As the federal government closes in on two weeks of a partial shutdown, questions continue regarding what could end up being affected by a lack of federal funds. It has been well publicized in the national news that National Parks are closed, putting dampers on many vacations. In Alaska, much of the National Park visiting season is over, but the administrative work and preparation for next year’s busy summer season are on hold until Congress and the President can agree on a resolution fund the government. Alternatively, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell says that she will consider offers from states to fund the re-opening of National Parks during the shutdown. Governer Parnell’s office could not be reached on whether or not Alaska would consider such a move.
Other federal closures could also have an impact on Alaskans. The U.S. Geological Survey has furloughed nearly all of its workers, according to the Department of Interior website, and the Federal Aviation Administration has sent many of its workers home, though air traffic controllers are still working, including Flight Service at the Talkeetna Airport.
On Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that benefits his agency provides could be in jeopardy in the event that the shutdown continues. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is expected to continue, as are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The WIC program, which is a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children will last as long as state funds hold out. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reported last week that the state believes it has funds to last through the end of the month.
Furloughs are also affecting many Alaskans. Estimates vary on exactly how many federal employees have been furloughed statewide. As the shutdown continues, each side of the aisle accuses the other of causing the furloughs and closures, and while Speaker of the House John Boehner and other House leaders recently met President Barack Obama to discuss how to resolve the crisis, no concrete plan is in place.
In the meantime, the Alaska Department of Labor says that furloughed employees could be eligible for unemployment, provided they meet the normal requirements. In the event that Congress decides to pay them retroactively, however, those employees would have to reimburse the state for the assistance they receive. A bill to pay furloughed workers retroactively passed the House by a vote of 407-0 this week, and is currently awaiting discussion in the Senate.