Government shutdown trickles down closer to home

RAY VAN DUSEN/MONROE JOURNALSigns like this one leading to the campsite at Blue Bluff could be seen beginning last Tuesday throughout the county. Day use areas; campgrounds; and restrooms were closed off among a list of other examples seen locally after an official government shutdown went into play.

Since 1976, when modernized congressional budgeting processes began, the government has pressed through 18 shutdowns. While reasons for those in the past have ranged from abortion issues to welfare expansions and the time frames have lasted anywhere from one to 21 days, negotiations eventually gave way to normalcy.

While the nation waits out the current war among lawmakers, little pieces of normalcy right here at home have been put on hold. During the afternoon hours of Oct. 1, the day the shutdown went into effect, gates were closed the campground at Aberdeen’s Blue Bluff and access was blocked at boat ramps across the county.

“A few ramps will be closed and, of course, their restrooms, but it's my understanding that one ramp on each lake will be open. Monroe County has Smithville, Amory, Aberdeen and part of Columbus lakes. There are state ramps available also at Bull Mountain, Highway 278 and some open private ramps,” said Msgt. Dean Hudson of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

All lands and facilities owned or managed by Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks remain open for the public to enjoy, including all wildlife management areas throughout the state and national forests owned by the U.S. Forest Service like nearby Tombigbee National Forest in Chickasaw and Pontotoc counties.

Hudson recommends for people to check on the status of national refuges before making any trips until the government shutdown is lifted. Since the bankruptcy court in Aberdeen falls under the judiciary branch, its funding is caught up to be temporarily exempt from the government shutdown, but if lawmakers don’t come to agreement by Oct. 15, there will be changes.

“We’ll enter shutdown mode and only essential work functions will continue and that varies from day to day so it will be a rolling furlough. It’s a difficult situation since bankruptcy court is designed to be a fast-paced system and it could hurt the business community, debtors and creditors. We’re in unchartered waters,” said David Puddister, clerk of court for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Mississippi. The bankruptcy court will remain open, but only with a skeleton crew in the event of furloughs. Puddister said even the essential work function deemed necessary will face a non-pay status.

The court is in the process of devising a plan with the least amount of disruption in the event the government shutdown continues past mid-October.

The situation remains much the same for the U.S. District Court in Aberdeen.

“All of our courts have to handle serious constitutional duties. We will continue with criminal trials, but we’ll have to take a hard look at civil matters and there may be a delay,” said court clerk David Crews of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Mississippi.

For Aberdeen resident, Robbie Ross who is a civilian worker at the Columbus Air Force Base, his essential work function remains as an optometry technician.

“I am very lucky. I am working for now but won’t get paid until the shutdown is over. Most everyone I work with was sent home yesterday [Oct. 1],” Ross said.

The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs remained opened last week in Aberdeen and Amory and the facilities plan to continue services throughout October.

WIC operates through the Mississippi State Department of Health through the United States Department of Agriculture, which granted use of leftover funds from last fiscal year.

“The USDA allowing us to use these funds ensures that we will be able to continue WIC operations, without disruption, for at least the complete month of October. This gives us breathing room,” said State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier.

According to Workforce Investment Act case manager Stephanie Kitchens, Itawamba Community College’s Win Job Center in Amory will have no possible funding for all Workforce Investment Act programs, no training dollars or On Job Training dollars available.

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