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Published October 01, 2013, 08:45 AM

Local impact of government shutdown

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The federal government shutdown means a temporary layoff for thousands of workers in North Dakota and Minnesota, including those who administer the unemployment benefits available for workers sidelined when large parts of the government stop working.

By: Jennifer Johnson, Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The federal government shutdown means a temporary layoff for thousands of workers in North Dakota and Minnesota, including those who administer the unemployment benefits available for workers sidelined when large parts of the government stop working.

“We’re certainly concerned, but this is part of the job,” said Maren Daley, executive director of Job Service North Dakota. “You prepare and you plan. When we’ve seen these federal cuts along the way, we’ve been planning to be as conservative as we can.”

Job Service is among many federally funded agencies in Grand Forks that could have temporary work stoppage in a federal shutdown.

North Dakota officials were generally confident the state could bear a brief shutdown, but in Minnesota, roughly 19,000 federal employees would be sent home to wait it out for the first time in 17 years.

Job Service

Daley said a conversation she’d had with representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor on Monday afternoon had a “very serious tone” and was told not to expect any reimbursement if they continued operating, she said.

Job Service could only continue normal operations for three to four weeks after a shutdown, though the agency could furlough staff to last a bit longer, said Daley.

Using other funding options such as loans has been considered by agency officials, but that would be a final option “because there’s no assurance that when the federal government started operating again, it would start reimbursing for those periods,” she said.

Contrary to its name, Job Service North Dakota is funded by the government because it was first developed by Congress to administer unemployment insurance during the Depression, and it still does that today, Daley said.

Unemployment insurance benefits and the collection of unemployment insurance taxes would continue after the shutdown as long as staffing is available to administer it, and this would certainly affect any federal employees newly eligible for unemployment insurance, she said.

Big, small impact

Information about a shutdown’s potential effect on local organizations was mixed.

Head Start Director Jerry Jonnson hadn’t heard yet what would happen to the federally funded children’s program in town, but officials from the Grand Forks Housing Authority knew they could still rely on promised funding for Tuesday.

Executive Director Terry Hanson said he was assured of this Monday morning by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development staff. Federal dollars are used to cover costs for the agency-owned housing and housing vouchers given to residents living out of authority property.

The agency’s funding has been appropriated until the end of the year, according to Hanson. If a shutdown drags on and there are no U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development employees to process paperwork, then Hanson said the agency would run into funding trouble.

Grand Forks Air Force Base officials announced Monday that military personnel would continue to work and civilian employees would be furloughed. All employees were required to report to the office today, regardless of the shutdown, according to a press release.

Base activities affected by the shutdown include the Northern Lights Club and bowling alley, but flying and airfield operations, and support for those missions, would continue as normal, the release said.

Federal grants for researchers at UND and other universities might dry up, and students who get certain types of financial aid might also have problems, said Mark Jendrysik, political science professor.

He said he can’t take people seriously who believe that nothing will happen and it will turn out OK.

Herald staff writer Brandi Jewett contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press and Minnesota Public Radio.

Call Johnson at (701) 787-6736; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1736; or send e-mail to jjohnson@gfherald.com.

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