EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 2, 2013

Granite Staters frustrated with government shutdown

Granite Staters express frustration with Congress

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — Senior citizens, veterans and National Guardsmen are among the first in New Hampshire who will feel the effects of the federal government shutdown that started yesterday.

College students and the poor would be on deck.

As the shutdown sidelined 332 N.H. National Guard employees with furloughs, Washington’s political stalement hit home even in the offices of the state’s congressional delegation.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., announced she had put out the closed sign at her offices in Washington and back home in the Granite State. She noted staff members would be unable to answer phone calls or emails.

Shaheen and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., sent a joint letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel protesting the Guard furloughs and at least 1,600 more at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

“We certainly should not allow gridlock in Washington to keep these highly skilled professionals, including those at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pease, from supporting missions that are so vital to our national security,” the senators wrote.

The governor’s office said at least 1,600 shipyard workers were furloughed but the number could fluctuate.

New applicants for Social Security and Medicare benefits could experience delays.

It’s making people angry.

“Quite frankly, I can’t speak the words I’m so upset and angry,” said Sherry Spencer, chairman of the Pelham Council on Aging. “Every single one, from the president on down, should be fired for this unnecessary bull.”

That senior applications for Social Security or Medicare would be delayed because of politics is just ludicrous, she said.

“I don’t understand how they continue to get away with it,” Spencer said. “This is very difficult to try to explain to seniors. They are very scared.”

The “Veterans Field Guide To Government Shutdown,” recently issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs, said VA medical facilities will remain fully operational.

But the guide said hiring will cease, burials in national cemeteries will be slowed, vocational counseling will be limited and no decisions will be rendered on claims appeals.

“What’s unfortunate about the claims is those were so backed up already,” Pelham VFW commander Mark McCabe said. “Shutdowns like this never do anyone any good. They shut down the government because our elected officials failed to compromise.”

A prolonged shutdown could have consequences for poor people, but probably not this month.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — said households still would get benefits in October because Congress previously authorized economic stimulus funding for the aid.

Southern New Hampshire Services, which operates a family center and Head Start program in Derry, as well as a satellite office in Salem, said Rockingham County programs are unaffected this month.

Those fit under the “essential services” exemption from the shutdown, officials said.

But social service professionals are worried about what comes next.

Vicki McKinney-Vareschi works with homeless families as program director with Family Promise of Greater Rockingham County. She said clients could definitely be hurt by potential cuts.

“I’d just hope they would start behaving like adults and settle this,” she said of the political leaders in Washington.

Then there are loans and grants to college students. Delays could affect 14 million students at 6,600 institutions.

“This is a nationwide problem,” said Thomas Horgan, president of the New Hampshire College and University Council.

Money has been paid out for fall. The issue is next semester.

“If there’s a prolonged shutdown, it would have some dramatic consequences for students and institutions,” Horgan said.

Federal grants for research and the issuance of visas and passports for students and faculty are other worries, he said.

National parks are closed, including the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish.

As a photo showing veterans defying the closure to visit the World War II monument in Washington circulated via social media, it touched readers.

“The monuments belong to the people,” Krista Tockey said on the Derry News Facebook page. “We should be allowed to view them no matter what the government is doing.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan was still assessing the trouble for the state.

“We’ve been meeting with the various state agencies regarding the potential impacts of the government specific to New Hampshire,” aide William Hinkle said. “Unfortunately, the National Guard will be the hardest hit. They have already dealt with furloughs and will now lack funding to pay technicians and utility bills.”

Some programs such as Medicaid are spared for now because of prior-year balances or because they are regarded as essential, Hinkle said.

“We will face challenges the longer the shutdown drags on and federal funds are exhausted,” he said, “but the state of New Hampshire will continue to operate.”

Federal disaster aid awarded communities in western New Hampshire for flooding is already obligated, but Hinkle said it could be slowed if fewer FEMA workers aren’t available to process the money.

“But as long as the shutdown doesn’t drag on too long, there won’t be a problem,” he said.

Federal agencies said they would be less social, reducing their Tweeting and Website updates or ceasing them.

The shutdown didn’t interfere with air travel or highway construction.

“There has been no disruption to airport operations,” said Thomas Malafronte, assistant director at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Flight controllers and baggage screeners both work for the federal government, but are deemed essential personnel.

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that this remains the case,” he said, “and that a prolonged shutdown doesn’t negatively impact the airport, airlines or the traveling public.”

The Interstate 93 widening and other projects funded by federal aid continued.

“The New Hampshire Department of Transportation expects little or no impact in the short term,” spokesman Bill Boynton said. “If the shutdown drags out, we may start to feel the effects at some point.”

An advisory issued by the Federal Highway Administration said none of its 2,914 employees faced furloughs because appropriations come through contract authority.

The U.S. Postal Service said mail delivery would continue.