Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 30, 2013

Budget impasse could threaten some local services


— TRAVERSE CITY — A partial government shutdown could negatively affect some, though not all federal services and programs for those who live in the Grand Traverse region.

The U.S. Coast Guard station in Traverse City and other local ports would remain on full duty. Social Security and unemployment benefits checks would still go out, though there could be delays in processing new disability applications. Medicare benefits and Pell grants are solid.

The Internal Revenue Service would suspend all audits. Americans must still pay taxes and file federal tax returns, but won't have the usual toll-free numbers to call.

The long-anticipated health insurance exchange will go live as planned Tuesday, but funding is still up in the air.

“People will still be able to enroll,” said Marti Lolli of Priority Health, an exchange participant. “That gives the government a bit of time, a couple of months, to get funding in place.”


Unwanted vacation at Sleeping Bear?

Employees at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore are scurrying to prepare for a park shutdown, a move that will furlough all but four of 60 employees and could hurt tourism.

“Technically, the park will be closed,” said Tom Ulrich, Sleeping Bear Dunes deputy superintendent. “We won’t be able to gate every trail, but technically the grounds are closed. Where we can, we’ll block access — the Scenic Drive, the Dune Climb, but of course you’re not going to block the county roads.”

Visitors will still have access to beaches and trails, but restrooms and the Visitor Center will be closed, he said.

A shutdown also means campers at Platte River and D.H. Day campgrounds would be given 48 hours to leave.

“We have quite a number of people in the Platte River campground, 82 campers,” said Ulrich, adding D.H. Day is about 10 percent full.

Only four law enforcement rangers and maintenance employees will stay on the job in the event of a shutdown, he said.

The staff today was both hopeful for a resolution and nervous about the unknowns, he said.

“We want to keep the place open for visitors and protect the resources we’re entrusted with," he said. "Everyone wants to work.”

An average of 2,300 visitors enter the National Park each day in October, a number that certainly won't go up, he said.

“There are going to be some who might want to go to the dunes for color season and decide, 'Let’s not go there,'” he said.

The National Park brings an estimated $100 million annually to the area, Ulrich said.


Programs for women, children at risk

The partial government shutdown also would be bad news for a nutritional support program for millions of women, babies, and children.

If Congress can't strike a budget deal, no additional federal funds will be available to support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced.

The Grand Traverse County Health Department handles 2,500 WIC caseloads each month, said spokeswoman Rose Ann Davis.

They receive vouchers for milk, juice, eggs, cereal, peanut butter and infant formula and “double up bucks” to help buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farm markets.

There are a lot of unknowns right now, putting the health department in a holding pattern, Davis said.

“The Michigan Department of Community Health advised us that it has a contingency plan for the short-term, but hasn’t been clear what will happen in the future, she said. “A lot of people could be affected, but we’re just waiting to see I guess.”

The Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, including Michigan Works!, will be fine for a couple of weeks, said Elaine Wood, chief executive officer.

“After that we’ll have to wait and see. You can’t operate without cash flow forever. We’re putting a stop on all our normal purchasing of supplies ... to extend our cash flow," she said.

Airport passengers will feel little, if any, effect. Federal air traffic controllers and airport screeners will remain on the job, said Cherry Capital Airport Director Kevin Klein.

The shutdown won't delay the construction or opening of a 400-foot runway extension, which is expected to wrap by week's end. It might delay the Federal Aviation Administration putting together the navigational procedures for incoming aircraft, Klein said.

Bottom line, an FAA delay could affect planes being able to land in "really bad weather," he said.

“What that means is that planes, under the full instrument procedure that normally are allowed to fly in with visibility of half a mile, will be restricted to two miles,” he said.