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NNY faces uncertain fallout from budget impasse

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Midnight was the deadline. But the impacts of the federal government shutdown may be felt in the north country long after partisan lawmakers failed to reach an agreement Monday night.

Some institutions will feel the impact almost immediately. Others, insulated by a layer or two, may suffer later. It all will depend on how long the shutdown continues, according to officials.

Employment training will be hurt immediately, according to Jefferson County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III.

The Jeff-Lewis WorkPlace, 1000 Coffeen St., provides training to displaced workers. Because of the sequester, the agency received only 7 percent of its annual budget in the first quarter. It was due to receive the rest, 93 percent, today. Now, with the government shutdown, it will be able to spend only what it already has been given and will have to rely on the county for any extra funds, according to Executive Director Cheryl M. Mayforth.

That will affect the number of programs it will be able to offer to retrain workers in an area where the unemployment rate is higher than the state and national averages, Mrs. Mayforth said.

And while most county departments will not be affected directly by the shutdown, civilian furloughs on nearby Fort Drum could further constrain an already tight budget, according to Mr. Hagemann.

After basing part of its budget this year on continuing the trend of robust sales tax returns, the county is down in its projected intake. The continuation of the furloughs for an extended period could drop sales tax revenues even lower, Mr. Hagemann said.

The county is expected to receive more than $27.4 million in federal aid in 2013, though most of that is funneled through the Department of Social Services, which distributes benefits directly to recipients, according to Mr. Hagemann.

DSS Deputy Commissioner Teresa W. Gaffney said the department’s programs will be unaffected by the shutdown.

The county also receives $22.3 million in state aid, which may shrink if the shutdown continues and the flow of federal aid to New York begins to dry up, Mr. Hagemann said.

Other county departments that receive federal funds on a regular basis include the Highway Department and the Sheriff’s Department. They will remain largely unaffected unless the shutdown continues much longer than anticipated, according to senior staff.

It is also a waiting game for schools, hospitals, housing agencies and other organizations that receive federal funds.

Jack J. Boak, superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said any impact on Northern New York schools may come at a later date.

“We don’t anticipate any immediate impact,” he said. “It’d depend on how long a shutdown prevailed. If these things go on for a long time, it’ll be different. Whenever we have one of these anomalies, it’s always places that need money the most that get hurt the most.”

It would take time, he said, before schools’ free and reduced-price lunch program or any federal grants for schools for the new budget year would be affected.

Carthage Area Hospital Chief Executive Officer Adil Ameer said the hospital on West Street Road, Carthage, is working with Fort Drum, specifically with the MEDACC leadership, to “do whatever is necessary to facilitate and assist the troops and their families in meeting their health care needs.”

“We will continue to provide the highest quality care to all our patients, including our patients from Fort Drum, without compromising our service delivery,” Mr. Ameer said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released a contingency plan for possible lapse in appropriations. Under the contingency plan, HUD will “continue to provide for the delivery of essential housing and emergency services for homeless persons and persons with AIDS to protect against imminent threats to the safety of human life.”

HUD also will continue to disburse Community Development Block Grant funds.

Michael C. Robare, executive director of the Watertown Housing Authority, said while a government shutdown will affect anyone who receives a federal subsidy, the agency is unsure of all ways it may be affected. One concern, he said, is if the online system for checking income eligibility is shut down, the Watertown Housing Authority will not have access to that information and won’t be able to complete new applications.

Even if the government approves a contingency plan, Mr. Robare said, he doesn’t know how long the agency can wait out the storm while operating with old figures. That becomes more difficult, he said, considering the cost of labor, materials, health insurance and other factors increase each year.

North Country Children’s Clinic Executive Director Daniel A. Wasneechak said despite the agency waiting for federal funds to avoid its own financial turmoil, he does not believe a shutdown will affect those pending payments to agency.

A call seeking comment to the state office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was forwarded to the department’s national office, where a reporter was referred to the Office of Management and Budget. An email to that office was not answered Monday.

Similarly, a call to U.S. Customs and Border Protection was not returned Monday afternoon.

Although Jefferson Rehabilitation Center has four contracts on Fort Drum, totaling nearly $7 million, for work at dining halls, custodial care, Central Issue Facility and recycling processing center, Executive Director Howard W. Ganter said the agency will have no immediate impact from a federal government shutdown. Later on, he said, payment could be delayed. To put the issue in perspective, Mr. Ganter said, JRC and its 130 employees through those four contracts were not affected when furloughs were put in place.

Colleges have little to fear from a government shutdown, school officials said. Schools in the State University of New York system are funded by state and local governments and tuition fees, not the federal government.

The federal government does play a role in higher education through the provision of Pell Grants and student loans. Both of these are considered mandatory spending, which will not be affected by a shutdown.

Calls to a number of other agencies that could be at risk with a shutdown were not returned. Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization Executive Director Denise K. Young was out of the office Monday, and unavailable for comment.

A call seeking comment to Samaritan Medical Center was not returned by 4 p.m. Monday.

A call seeking comment to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County Executive Director Kevin J. Jordan was not returned Monday.

A call seeking comment to Marie E. Ambrose, Head Start/prekindergarten director for the Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County, was not returned Monday. Head Start already has experienced a 5 percent cut to its program, in which the Watertown-based agency had to cut two weeks from the Head Start school year.

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