Farmers, hunters, airport potentially impacted by lack of spending bill
For many Arkansas County residents, life continued as normal after Congress failed to pass a spending bill by midnight Monday, causing the country’s first partial government shutdown since 1995.
But some Grand Prairie citizens joined the nearly 800,000 federal workers facing unknown futures as furloughs and closings occurred across the nation.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said in a statement Monday that as many as 2,000 state employees could be furloughed as part of the shutdown. Beebe called the shutdown “absolutely inexcusable.”
Many federal departments and offices are closed or partially operating during the government shutdown. Some services that remain open are only operating until current funds run out. A complete list of departments and services affected by the shutdown can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/contingency-plans.
Included in the government shutdown are the country’s national parks and wildlife refuges.
Arkansas Post National Memorial Superintendent Ed Wood said the park is closed to the public. Residents attempting to visit the national park will find a locked gate and “a sign up that says the park is closed, entry is prohibited.”
Wood said limited personnel will be on site to maintain the park’s water system, but the public is not allowed on the grounds.
“No picnics, no fishing, no hiking,” Wood said. He also reminded residents that they are not allowed to walk around the gate and enter the park.
The same can be found at the White River National Wildlife Refuge. Phone calls by the Daily Leader went unanswered, but a press release sent out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tuesday afternoon said, “the lands, offices and visitor centers and other facilities of Bald Knob, Big Lake, Cache River, Felsenthal, Holla Bend, Logan Cave, Overflow, Pond Creek, Wapanocca and the White River national wildlife refuges will be closed to the public.
“While a lapse in appropriations remains in effect, public access to service properties will be prohibited and fish and wildlife management activities and public programs will be cancelled.
This includes all hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental education, interpretive, camping, hiking and boating activities occurring on refuge lands and waters,” the release states.
Keith Stephens, with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said, “wildlife officers will be out doing rounds to make sure all hunting regulations are followed.”
Because of its connection with the Army Corps of Engineers, Merrisach Lake Park is also closed.
Residents looking for more information on the country’s parks and refuges are encouraged to visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.
Stuttgart’s agricultural community has also been impacted.
According to research leader Dr. Anna McClung, “The Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center is temporarily closed due to the lapse in federal government funding. The facility will reopen once funding has been restored. All but essential employees that will protect the security and integrity of the facility have been furloughed.”
Phone calls were answered at the Harry K. Dupree Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center Tuesday morning, but officials refused to comment on the shutdown or the center’s operations.
Both the DBNRRC and SNARC websites are unavailable and encourage visitors to view the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agency Contingency plans at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/contingency-plans.
White River Irrigation District Chief Engineer and Director Dennis Carman said WRID projects continue right now, but there is concern for area farmers receiving assistance.
“At this moment, it is not a major impact as far as our contracting,” Carman said. “Our primary federal partner is the Corps of Engineers and they are continuing to work utilizing prior year carry-over money. If the shutdown continues, it has the potential to prevent awarding of a contract on the pump station this fall.
“A larger, more immediate concern is the impact on farmers’ MRBI (Mississippi River Basin Initiative) payments and assistance available from NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) and other USDA agencies. As a full partner and sponsor of these MRBI projects that helps with the on-farm work, it gives me some concern, especially if the shutdown lasts very long.”
Carman said WRID officials have been working with the USDA on a low-interest loan to accelerate construction. He said, “that process has stopped since USDA people have been sent home.”
“We are concerned about the impacts this shutdown has on our neighbors and friends who are federal employees. This disruption of their families has been hard.”
According to USA Rice, all farm program signup, processing and payments will stop during the shutdown. Farm loan applications and processing will stop, and all of the Risk Management Agency will be shut down because 100 percent of the agency funding is discretionary. All RMA offices will be closed and all employees will be furloughed.
The Foreign Agricultural Service issued a statement about how the lack of both a funding bill and the expired one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill are affecting its programs and services.
“During the shutdown, FAS will discontinue administering all market development programs (MAP, FMD, EMP, TASC and QSP), including servicing reimbursement claims.”
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced a summary of its sequestration policy Monday.
“The programs, which provide interim financing for agricultural commodities to be stored after harvest and sold throughout the year when unaffected by harvest-season pressure on prices, are subject to sequester reductions of 5.1 percent. With commodity loan programs operating on a crop year basis and Sept. 30 marking the end of the federal fiscal year, adjustments will occur for the 2013 crop year as follows:
• Loan-making for all commodities will be suspended on Oct. 1 and are targeted to resume mid-October;
• Loan repayment and loan servicing for all disbursed commodity loans will continue;
• Beginning in mid-October, the 2013 crop loans, and if applicable, loan deficiency payments (LDPs) will receive 5.1 percent reductions;
• Re-pledged 2012 crop sugar loans are not subject to sequester; and
• 2013 crop loan rates are not affected.
“Commodity loans issued by FSA, marketing associations and loan servicing agents are all subject to these reductions,” the FSA statement said.
The Stuttgart Municipal Airport is currently operating at full capacity but manager Carl Humphrey said issues could arise if any equipment fails.
Employees who repair all navigational, air traffic communication and weather equipment have been furloughed.
Humphrey said construction and updates to the airport could be put on hold if the shutdown lasts for an extended period of time. He said a pre-construction conference is scheduled for Thursday, but a construction start date is unknown.
CAVU Aerospace, which is housed at the Stuttgart Municipal Airport, is also feeling the effects of the shutdown. Humphrey said the Federal Aviation Administration is involved when planes land to be dismantled. The FAA is currently operating with essential staff only.
Not all departments received bad news Tuesday morning.
Arkansas County Health Unit Administrator Tonya Brickey said both the Stuttgart and DeWitt units are operating at full staff and have been given the OK to proceed as normal with programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Stuttgart’s Early Childhood Development Center/Head Start is also open and operating. Center officials said they “have not heard anything” and are assuming they will not be immediately included in the shutdown.
The Stuttgart School District and Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas are also operating at full capacity following the announcement.
Stuttgart School District Director of Federal Programs Kathy Hopson said the district is not expected to receive any new funding cuts caused by the shutdown, while PCCUA Vice Chancellor Dr. Susan Luebke said the two-year college has already received its federal funding and students that applied for and accepted federal students loans will not be immediately impacted.
Local governments are also operating as normal.
“We are just moving right along,” Stuttgart Mayor Marianne Maynard said.
Arkansas County Judge Glenn “Sonny” Cox said he’s not aware of any reasons the county would be directly impacted by the shutdown. He said many of the county’s funding and programs are state-related but, like many officials, he doesn’t “have a good answer.”
Cox hopes Congress can reach an agreement quickly to end the shutdown.
“I hope they can get together and do what’s best for the people.”