Mostly business as usual in WV during shutdown
CHARLESTON - Agencies throughout West Virginia that rely on federal funding and support are cutting operations as necessary as the partial shutdown of the federal government continues.
According to the White House, 75 percent of the federal budget controlled by Congress is already funded, meaning offices in departments including Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor, Treasury and Veterans Affairs will operate as usual.
Managers at other federal agencies have been told to classify employees as “excepted” and “non-excepted.” Excepted employees are expected to show up to work as usual, but they won’t be paid for their work until Congress passes a new appropriations bill securing future funding for their agencies. Non-excepted employees are placed on unpaid furlough for the duration of the shutdown and aren’t supposed to do more than minimal activities necessary to facilitate the shutdown.
Across the country, more than 400,000 federal workers have been furloughed, while 400,000 more are working without pay.
Dan Doyle, District 4 national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees union, said it is futile to try and predict how and when the shutdown will conclude.
“I believe that Congress really wants to end this, and I think they will continue to work to do so, but this is a terrible portrayal of leadership by (President Donald Trump),” said Doyle, who is based in Morgantown.
As the shutdown continues, Doyle stressed that federal employees are the ones bearing the burden of Trump’s decisions.
“Many of them are already working in understaffed environments regularly, and now with this they are understaffed and unpaid,” Doyle said. “Morale is being affected. These people work in very important and sometimes very critical and dangerous conditions - like those at prisons. It’s unconscionable how they are being treated.”
Doyle said workers at Department of Treasury offices are likely the most affected by the shutdown in West Virginia, as well as employees at the Department of Justice - like prison guards and correctional officers - who are working risky jobs with little benefits.
AFGE has about 3,500 union members in West Virginia, Doyle said. He was adamant that “very, very, very few, to quote the president’s language” federal employees in West Virginia would support his actions regarding the shutdown.
“West Virginia as a whole, we understand the value of good work. Federal employees want to show up and do a good job and get paid for it,” Doyle said. “Many of these federal employees are showing up and doing a difficult job, critical jobs that we depend on, and now they don’t know when they’re going to get a next paycheck. I know I said it before, but it really is unconscionable.”
Here are how certain agencies are operating in West Virginia in the face of the shutdown:
Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, said while more employees may be furloughed if the shutdown continues, almost everything at this point in the federal court system is proceeding “full steam ahead.”
“The term ‘partial’ government shutdown is accurate. We’re still operating as needed, motions are still being filed and we were just in meetings this morning,” Stuart said. “Anything affecting public safety, the criminal side, doesn’t lose a beat. We continue with our work of keeping our communities safe, and we remain focused on targeting drug dealers and offenders and putting them behind bars.”
Stuart said the number of furloughed employees at his office will vary by day, depending on what duties are deemed essential.
“It’s a case-by-case basis, but again, nothing will be affected to the point of any real pending safety issues,” Stuart said.
The courts are fully funded through Jan. 11. If the shutdown continues past then, some operations will continue, but more employees could be placed on unpaid furlough.
While 95 percent of employees at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are furloughed, there is generally a minimal effect on local HUD-sponsored programs.
Clifton Clark, chief financial officer of the Charleston-Kanawha Housing Authority, said most people involved in HUD-sponsored programs would remain unaffected by the shutdown.
The biggest impact, he said, will be a delay in grant applications and requests for funding.
He said HUD got ahead of the shutdown mostly, reaching out to local authorities and offices last week and notifying them to submit anything they could before the shutdown struck Saturday.
“For us, this just slows down the process, and we’re expecting delays as we submit applications, but we’re actually almost all current because we got a jump on submissions last week when HUD gave us a heads up,” Clark said. “For those that use our programs, for our day-to-day services, they will never even notice a thing. There’s no effect on them.”
According to notifications posted on their respective webpages, national recreation areas throughout the Mountain State, including the New River Gorge National River, remain open for visitors, weather permitting, but services will not be available.
Visitors are urged to call 911 in case of any emergency on national park lands, and to stay vigilant for questionable weather that could become hazardous.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all considered mandatory services and benefits will continue to be doled out as such, according to news releases from those departments.
Since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is fully funded through fiscal year 2019, there will be no gap in service or benefits for veterans or any other functions of the department, according to a news release.
Mail will continue to be delivered as usual, as the U.S. Postal Service is considered an independent agency and relies almost entirely on internal revenue collected through sales instead of on tax revenue, according to The Washington Post.
Federal employees at airports - like Transportation Security Administration agents and air traffic controllers - are reporting to work as usual, presenting little to no effect to travelers.
The National Weather Service is also operating as usual, according to Ray Young, a meteorologist at the Charleston forecast office. Forecasts and warnings will continue to be issued.
“In the eve of a partial government shutdown, there will be no interruption in National Weather Service forecasts and lifesaving warnings on operational websites such as Weather.gov and on social media platforms,” according to a statement from NWS public relations.