By Jamison Cocklin
It was business as usual Friday at some of the government agencies and federally funded organizations in the Mahoning Valley that were affected by the 16-day partial government shutdown.
Federal employees returned to work Thursday after Congress hatched a last-minute deal to avert a Treasury default and reopen the government.
When they returned, though, the backlog of work left unattended for more than two weeks was still waiting for them, and the federal money that many local organizations rely on was just beginning to trickle out.
Mike Tobin, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland, said nearly half the staff was furloughed during the shutdown. Civil and administrative staff stayed at home, while criminal prosecutors came to work.
“I think most people understand we’re federal prosecutors, but we’re also lawyers for every federal agency,” Tobin said. “If the post office goes out and hits a car and gets sued, we represent them. Those sorts of civil matters and human-resources things were sitting around, so everyone’s trying to catch up after not working for 21/2 weeks.”
About 400,000 government employees will be paid for each of the 16 days they didn’t work. Standard & Poor’s said Thursday that the government shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion, with everything from wages and auto sales to mortgage applications and retail taking a hit.
Gil Goldberg, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Cleveland, which helps to serve small business in the Valley, said about 56 government-backed SBA loans were not processed at the district office during the shutdown. In all, those loans represented roughly $6.5 million in lending for the region, he said.
Twenty-six of those loans were processed Thursday, though, and Goldberg said his 11 staffers — who also were furloughed during the shutdown — were in the process of getting the other loans through the system.
He added that his staff was working to reschedule meetings, public outreach sessions and appointments throughout Northeast Ohio that were canceled during the shutdown.
Bill Oliver, a business consultant at the Ohio Small Business Development Center in Youngstown, said he hadn’t yet received information about when the SBA loan applications that some of his clients were waiting on would be completed. Throughout the shutdown, the SBDC simply got clients prepared for the application process so they would be ready when the SBA started processing loans again, Oliver said.
Things were getting back to normal at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna as well. A little more than 400 civilian employees at the base were furloughed until Oct. 7, when Congress passed a bill that sent all personnel in a military support role back to work.
Maj. Brent Davis, public information officer for the 910th Airlift Wing, said there were no funds to fly training missions throughout the duration of the shutdown. The 10 aircraft that were grounded at the base will start flying regularly again as the base has started to push out flight schedules now that the government is open again.
Eric White, a spokesman for the 910th, said operations were still a bit restricted at the base because of automatic federal spending cuts that took effect earlier this year.
Social Security Administration field offices, such as those in Youngstown and Warren, were open throughout the shutdown, but some of the services that were discontinued during the closure have been restored.
Phone lines at the Warren office were tied up throughout the morning Friday, while an official at the Youngstown office referred a reporter to the administration’s press office in Chicago.
Regional spokesman Doug Nguyen said the administration was working through some of the requests that were made during the shutdown, such as those for new or replacement Social Security cards. He said citizens were instructed to go online during the shutdown, and much of the administration’s operations were not impacted significantly.
Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said the state agency learned Thursday that the U.S. Department of Labor was in the process of releasing local funding for adult and dislocated workers.
That means the state’s 20 local workforce development offices, such as the Mahoning County Training Association, will soon be able to draw from their fiscal year funds and once again provide a full range of career services for clients.