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What happens if government shuts down?



Published: Fri, April 8, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.

RELATED: Shutdown talks yield no deal as clock ticks

Staff report

YOUNGSTOWN

You’ll still get the mail.

Federal courts will continue to function. Military operations will not cease.

Cash benefits and benefits through the Ohio Direction Card program would remain intact.

Other services, however, will be affected if nonessential federal government services are forced to shut down at midnight because of Congress’ failure to enact a budget.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House voted Thursday, largely along party lines, to fund the government another week and cut $12 billion in spending. The Democratic-led Senate was unlikely to pass the bill, and the president has vowed to veto it if the Senate approves it.

Those filing tax returns by mail with the IRS should expect delays in having them processed and receiving refunds. But e-file returns will be processed through its computer system, and there won’t be a delay in those refunds.

Local congressional offices could be closed as members of Congress would only retain essential employees and furlough the rest under a federal government shutdown, said Pat Lowry, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th.

“We are making plans in the event of a shutdown,” added Jessica Towhey, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Poland, R-6th. “We are looking at ways to keep our Ohio offices open so that we are able to provide essential services and remain accessible to constituents.”

Applications for U.S. Small Business Administration loans also could be delayed, Ryan said.

At the Social Security Administration, Bobby Reynolds, manager of the Warren office, said she still awaits instructions on what to do if there’s a government shutdown. But she added: “Checks will be delivered.”

Reynolds recalled a brief partial government shutdown during the early 1980s, during which every Social Security office was kept open, but with a reduced staff.

Those filing for new benefits would likely face delays.

A government shutdown wouldn’t impact mail delivery.

“We have to operate off of the revenues we make through the sales of stamps, so, for the Postal Service, it’s going to be business as usual,” said Victor Dubina, a postal service spokesman in Cleveland.

“We’re still awaiting some guidance from our main office in Cleveland, but I have every expectation that we will be open,” said Don Hinkson, deputy clerk in charge at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Youngstown.

For federal courts, Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, was more definite: “The short answer is: The courts will remain open,” she said.

Federal courts are prepared to use filing fees to run the courts for up to two weeks. After that, the courts would limit activities to those essential to resolving cases.

Jurors, public defenders and court-appointed lawyers would continue to serve, but payments to them would be deferred.

The federal district and bankruptcy courts operate in two separate courthouses in downtown Youngstown, with one judge assigned to each building. The newly appointed U.S. District judge based here is Judge Benita Pearson. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge here is Kay Woods.

Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland, said what happens in his office is “very much up in the air.” The U.S. Attorney, who serves as the federal prosecutor, maintains an office in downtown Youngstown.

Mike McElhaney, program administrator of income maintenance for Mahoning County Job and Family Services, said he got word from Columbus on Thursday that if the shutdown does occur, cash benefits and benefits through the Ohio Direction Card program would remain intact.

“It’s absolutely a relief that the benefits won’t be affected,” he said. “There is quite a high volume of benefits here in Mahoning County, so we wouldn’t want anything happening to any of those.”

McElhaney said for the state fiscal year 2010, a monthly average of 20,186 cases — not necessarily individuals — received benefits from JFS.

“If you’re talking about more than 20,000 cases a month on assistance, that equates to a lot of families,” he said. “Our food banks are pretty stretched out now, so I can’t imagine adding that many more families in need.”

As for military operations and civilian personnel, “operations and activities that are essential to safety, protection of human life, and protection of our national security, are ‘excepted’ from shutting down,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III in a message to Department of Defense personnel.

Lynn said operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Japan; Libya-related support operations; and other operations and activities essential to the security of the nation will continue.

In general, military personnel are not subject to furlough and will report for duty. The DoD will have no funds to pay military members or civilian employees for the days during which the government is shut down. Both military and civilian personnel, however, will receive pay for the period worked before the shutdown. These people will be paid retroactively once the department receives additional funding.

Contributors: Peter H. Milliken, David Skolnick, Elise Franco, William K. Alcorn


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