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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Colchester, Vt.) - Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., blasted what he called a "manufactured crisis" that forced the partial shutdown of the federal government, which reached its seventh day Monday. Shumlin, who suggested conservatives in Congress were wasting their time debating the Affordable Care Act instead of focusing on the federal budget and debt ceiling, called on Congress to craft a budget deal. "Let's get this over with fast," Shumlin said. "We've got to hope they come to their senses."
In a press conference, top members of the Shumlin administration and advocates for low-income Vermonters outlined ways Vermont is being hamstrung by the ongoing dispute. Some warned that several benefits or subsidies to needy residents could dry up in November if there's no plan to fund the government. Those include delays in rental subsidies that could sting 14,000 low-income residents, said Sarah Carpenter of the Vt. Housing Finance Agency.
In a press release, Gov. Shumlin's office outlined the following immediate examples of impacts to Vermonters during the shutdown:
• Putting Vermonters out of work - an estimated 5,000 federal employees who reside in Vermont are seeing reduced hours or indefinite furloughs.
• Preventing training and other activities by the Vermont National Guard, including cancellation of a monthly training weekend affecting 3,000 troops.
• Delaying support for Vermont small businesses - the processing of Small Businesses Administration (SBA) loans, a critical source of credit for small businesses, is being affected.
• Delaying the processing of benefits for seniors and veterans - although Social Security checks will continue to go out and Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics will remain open, seniors and veterans applying for new benefits could see significant delays in the processing of those claims.
• Affecting educational programs - Head Start programs, depending on when in the year federal grants are received, may have to cease operations because of a lack of funding.
• With the federal offices that handle housing matters, including USDA Rural Development, closed in the state and the region, new loan and loan guarantees can't be made. In addition, if the shutdown continues into November it is not clear what will happen with Housing and Urban Development programs. Delays in rental subsidies could affect nearly 14,000 low income Vermonters.
• Shuttering federal lands to Vermont hunters and sportsmen - The Nullhegan Basin Division and Putney Mountain Unit of the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge have been closed and activities such as hunting and fishing on those lands have been suspended.
• Halting important agricultural programs - many U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs have been impacted, including farm loans, market assistance loans, disaster assistance programs, assistance for the control of most plant and animal pests and diseases, and grants for research, education, and extension.
National Guard Maj. Kate Irish, who was recently told to return to work following a mandatory furlough, said she doesn't know when her next paycheck will come. She was, however, relieved to see the House vote to give back pay to workers like her, she said. "It makes planning and doing family finances a little more challenging, that's for sure," Irish added.
Irish told New England Cable News that she has not filed for unemployment, but Vt. Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan said 438 federal workers in Vermont did, last week alone. Those people will have to reimburse the unemployment fund when their federal paychecks restart, and payment plans will be available, Noonan explained.
Economic development officials cautioned Congress that states all over the country are struggling to recover from the recession, so it's no time to put that at risk. "Think of all this work that isn't getting done, and how long it's going to take to get back to normal," said Vt. Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller.
Miller indicated ripple effects are significant, from federal workers not buying sandwiches or other items from businesses near their now-quiet offices, to beer makers not able to produce new brews without government checks of their products.
Lake Champlain Chocolates in Burlington, Vt. said it is waiting on the Food and Drug Administration to green-light the production of a popular treat that requires renewed organic certification. With the government partially shut down, that testing is on hold, said company spokeswoman Meghan Fitzpatrick. "We're hoping it's over soon," she said of the shutdown.
The brand declined to identify the specific item, but said it hopes existing stock from past runs will last. "Should the shutdown continue, we could be in jeopardy of becoming out of stock of that product, which would then impact sales and our customers," Fitzpatrick said. "But for right now, it's still business as usual."
With no path to a solution in sight, all Vermont's leaders can do is hope individuals and businesses are spared further inconvenience, uncertainty, or losses.
For more on how Vermont is impacted by the shutdown, visit this Vt. Administration Agency website.