In N.H., some services grind to a halt while others continue as federal government shuts down

Last modified: 10/4/2013 11:29:19 AM
The mail is being delivered. Social Security checks are on their way and Medicare cards still work. Airplanes are flying and trains are running.

But national parks and historic sites have closed. The U.S. Small Business Administration has stopped processing most loan applications. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration isn’t inspecting workplaces, except for “imminent danger” situations that involve the risk of death or serious injury.

The federal government ran out of money yesterday, with President Obama, Senate Democrats and House Republicans unable to resolve a partisan standoff over health care reform. As the government began its first partial shutdown in 17 years, the effects were felt in New Hampshire and across the nation.

Many services are unaffected, at least for now. The U.S. District Court in Concord remains open, as does the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manchester. The U.S. Border Patrol continues to guard the border between New Hampshire and Quebec. Federally funded programs – like free and reduced-price lunches for low-income students – will continue without interruption for the time being.

“We don’t believe that there is any impact in the very short term, over this week, and we are closely evaluating longer-term impact,” said Paul Leather, deputy commissioner at the state Department of Education.

If the shutdown continues for days and weeks, though, the effects will begin to snowball. Federal courts said they could shut down if there isn’t a deal in place within 10 business days. State officials said services and projects that rely on federal money could begin to feel the pinch.

“We’re looking at little or no impact in the short term,” said Bill Boynton, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. “If it does get drawn out, we may start to feel the effects.”

Across the country, an estimated 800,000 federal employees were being furloughed due to the shutdown, according to the Associated Press.

At the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, about 1,520 of the facility’s 4,600 civilian employees were being furloughed, said spokesman Gary Hildreth.

Active-duty U.S. military personnel are still on duty and getting paid. But the New Hampshire National Guard placed 332 of its civilian technicians on furlough.

“They wear the uniform. They go to war. They bleed for this country. But they’re being treated as second-class citizens compared to the active-duty component,” said Maj. Gen. William Reddel III, the state National Guard’s adjutant general.

Agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration continued to operate despite the shutdown, with many employees deemed “essential” and remaining on the job.

“TSA hasn’t been affected. Air traffic controllers haven’t been affected,” said J. Brian O’Neill, deputy director of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. “The operation of the airport hasn’t been impacted at this time.”

The U.S. Postal Service continued to deliver mail, and Amtrak continued to run its Downeaster service from Boston to Maine through New Hampshire; both are semiautonomous agencies.

Also unaffected by the shutdown are payments from entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Other agencies, such as OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency, were forced to scale back their activities as many, if not most, of their employees were sent home. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it has enough money to continue its normal operations for a week, then will scale back – though the agency said it will continue oversight at Seabrook Station and other nuclear power plants.

Small Business Administration direct lending and loan guarantees funneled $89.5 million to hundreds of New Hampshire businesses during the 11 months that ended Aug. 31, according to the Concord-based Capital Regional Development Council.

Now, the agency has stopped processing applications, potentially throttling the flow of capital to small businesses.

“Any lending program where a federal staff person has to make a decision is no longer occurring,” said Stephen Heavener, the development council’s executive director.

There are a handful of exceptions, such as SBA disaster loans, “but that doesn’t drive the New Hampshire economy,” Heavener said. “Small business lending drives the New Hampshire economy.”

The National Park Service closed 401 parks and other sites across the country, including the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish.

Trails were still open in the White Mountain National Forest, but most rangers were sent home and operations were curtailed, said forest spokeswoman Tiffany Benna.

“At this point, we are looking at suspending timber-sale contracts and other contracts, and we will be closing some of the recreation facilities where we cannot guarantee the health and safety of our visitors,” she said.

But while federal funding accounts for a large chunk of the state government’s revenue, its operations are largely unaffected by the shutdown.

“The state of New Hampshire will continue to operate, carrying out the normal functions of state government, although there may be some disruption in individual programs that are not yet funded,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan in a statement.

(Megan Doyle contributed reporting to this story. Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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