BY JACLYN ROSE –
The shut down of the United States Federal Government, at midnight on October 1, has had an obvious and far-reaching affect on the entire Nation. At least, 800,000 government employees were deemed non-essential and were placed on an unpaid furlough. At times, it may seem like Polk County is immune to the political maneuverings of Washington but, unfortunately, this most recent action, or lack thereof, has far reaching implications.
Many of the local agencies which receive federal funding including the Veteran Affairs Office, the local Health Department, the CDI Head Start Program and the local WIC Office, to name a few, have seen no lapse in funding. Officials explained that this is not to say that if the shut down is to last for an extended period of time that they will not see an affect. As of last Friday, the Head Start Program, as well as, the WIC Program had negotiated deals with the USDA to continue to not only serve the people, but to also continue to pay local staff. Carrie Crow with the WIC Program of Little Rock encouraged local members of the program to continue to use their vouchers and noted the program is still accepting new applicants, as well as re-certifying current members.
According to Will Robbins, the Airport Manager of Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport, the government shut-down means loss of revenue and loss of jobs for several local aircraft businesses. With the FAA Registry Department in Oklahoma City closed, no airplane titles can be changed, registration issued or renewed, meaning no airplanes can be sold or traded. This will have immediate impact on a number of businesses at the local airport, whose pending work orders will be placed on hold.
Additionally, the FAA Flight Standards District Office in Little Rock is closed. This office, of FSDO, provides guidance and oversight to local repair stations. According to Robbins, the inability to create new work orders on previously started government aircraft projects will also harm the local airport economy. When the work which has been previously authorized has been completed on these projects, no new work will be started until the Government re-opens. This could slow down the work of several different local aircraft businesses causing loss of revenue and has already forced lay-offs at a number of the businesses.
The U.S. Forest Service is another area thathas been hit hard. There are as many as 35 local employees on unpaid furlough from the local office alone, and several other employees deemed essential, yet working without pay. Without an operational Forest Service, recreation and work on National Forest land has come to a halt. Lumber companies, such as Travis Lumber Co, of Mansfield, Ark., were told they had seven days to remove their equipment from National Forest property, with no idea when they will be able to return. All parks and trails on National Forest lands have been closed to the public. This is a hard time for one local Forest Service employee especially; fear of what will happen when her savings runs out has her praying for a quick resolution in Washington. While retroactive pay is a definite possibility, it has not passed both the House and the Senate as of press time.
The local USDA Service Center for the Rich Mountain Conservation District has also been closed and an estimated 7 employees furloughed as well as the services provided for the agricultural community and beyond.
With around 115 local families involved in the Mena National Guard Unit, the loss of pay from the cancellation of drill last weekend translates a painful cut in each soldier’s family income.
According to County Judge Brandon Ellison, there is also an issue with FEMA being unable to write up paperwork for the local relief from last spring’s flood. Because the Game and Fish Commission are on furlough, their reports on the flood cannot be filed. As of now, funds from FEMA have stopped, which means that much needed repairs to county infrastructure may also.
With no obvious end in sight, the government shut-down has already meant a great deal of uncertainty and a loss of income for members of Polk County. As time continues with no resolution, that number is sure to grow.