Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Friday, Oct. 04, 2013

Washington shutdown ripples across the Kansas City area

The Kansas City Star

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From scientists seeking research grants to poor mothers worried about feeding their babies and tourists turned away from the Truman Library, the Washington budget deadlock is spreading its woes deeper into the Kansas City region.

Beyond the misery of thousands of idled local federal workers, it is now starting to force other government workers off their jobs. The Kansas Department of Labor furloughed 66 employees Friday because of the federal shutdown.

The shutdown is similarly beginning to bite private sector workers elsewhere whose companies depend on federal contracts. Lockheed Martin announced Friday that it plans to furlough 3,000 workers across the nation beginning Monday. United Technologies Corp. has already idled 2,000 workers.

Most local institutions and businesses relying on the federal government for funding or work say they can last a while, but should the standoff continue past October, there are no guarantees.

For example, the Small Business Administration, a federal agency that administers and guarantees loans to a variety of local companies, is among the host of government agencies that have closed.

“Right now, nothing will be affected by a three-day or week delay, but if it goes on longer, people will realize how localized our federal government is,” said Pete Fullerton, president and CEO of the Kansas City Economic Development Corp.

Brenda Brewer, director of the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program at Truman Medical Center, said its 14,000 recipients will continue to be helped through the end of this month.

“We’re trying to be positive and optimistic things will be resolved and trying to get the word out things are normal for now,” she said. “We’re staying focused on what we do.”

While Leavenworth National Cemetery is continuing to bury the dead and welcome visitors, the Truman Library in Independence, the Eisenhower Library in Abilene and the National Archives at Kansas City are all closed.

Even weather watchers are being hampered. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website is closed down, although information is still available on the National Weather Service site.

And with the flu season coming up fast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that coordinates vaccine programs around the country, is off-duty for now.

“CDC would be unable to support the annual seasonal influenza program, outbreak detection and linking across state boundaries … and support to state and local partners for infectious disease surveillance,” the agency announced.

In another memo, the Food and Drug Administration said it was suspending “routine establishment inspections … and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making” until Washington approves a new budget.

Meat and poultry operations, however, will continue to be inspected by the Department of Agriculture.

Here’s a roundup of some of the hassles being created for people who rely on the federal government:

• While researchers at major local universities and the University of Kansas Medical Center have been able to continue working on previously authorized grants, the federal shutdown occurred at the busiest time of year to submit new proposals.

“At this point, the government is not processing new grant proposals, and this is generally a busy time for proposals to go in with the beginning of the federal budget year,” said Kevin Boatright, director of communications for the Office of Research and Graduate Studies at KU.

About 90 percent of the research at KU is funded by federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education. Scientists at the university have been told to continue preparing their grant applications with the hope the federal shutdown will end soon.

“At this point, however, we have no guidelines about whether deadlines have been extended or changed,” Boatright said. “Nobody is answering the phone.”

Paul Terranova, vice chancellor for research at KU Medical Center, said his institution gets $70 million annually in federal grants for research that includes cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease and cardiology. The federal government generally reimburses weekly the money spent by researchers.

“If this goes on a long time the reimbursements will stop, and we’ll have to dip into our reserves,” Terranova said.

It’s not just scientists who seek grant funding from Washington.

Glenn Pribbenow, director of the Kansas Fire and Rescue Academy at KU, said his application for up to $300,000 to buy protective clothing for firefighters, equipment and vehicles is on hold until the feds reopen.

It’s the first year the academy has been eligible to participate in the program offered by the Department of Homeland Security.

“With the shutdown, it’s on indefinite hold, and we don’t know what will happen,” he said.

• Area school leaders worry that federally funded services such as student breakfast and lunch, special education support, E-Rate technology support and Title I dollars that serve low-income students could dry up.

In most cases, though, the federal money for schools is already budgeted, at least through October. The situation probably would worsen if it continued into November.

The federally funded Head Start pre-kindergarten programming in the Kansas City area is in the same situation — for this month anyway.

Small difficulties have come up, such as for Lone Jack students who were scheduled this week to take an aptitude test that is used by the military branches and some skilled labor employers. Since the exam is administered by U.S. military personnel, the students’ tests were canceled.

The University of Missouri Extension Service has had to suspend a nutrition education program that it provides to 260,000 students across the state as well as 78,000 adults. The 100 people employed by the nutrition program will be able to remain on the job through October, but there are no guarantees after that.

• The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program continues to be funded through October, and Brewer, the director at Truman Medical Center, is thrilled with that bit of good news.

“We see 14,000 people at five locations throughout Jackson County, and we’re the largest provider in the state,” she said.

The WIC program helps expecting mothers learn about good nutrition, supplies formula and breast-feeding support to those with newborns, and provides money to women with young children to buy wholesome food such as milk, eggs and peanut butter.

There is concern at Catholic Charities, which has 215 people receiving WIC benefits, about what will happen after October. The agency issued an “urgent call” Friday for baby formula.

“Moms are nervous about running out of vouchers,” said Lisa Tulp, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities. “We’re trying to get ahead of this and have money for formula.

“Veterans also are anxious about their benefits. As a social service agency, we want to … figure out how to have services in place.”

• Those in the private sector who do a lot of business with the federal government also are saying they’re OK for now, but if the standoff continues that may change. The region’s biggest engineering firms, Burns & McDonnell and Black & Veatch, say their current government contracts are not in jeopardy.

“We have a number of federal projects underway, primarily with the Department of Defense,” said Roger Dick, a spokesman for Burns & McDonnell. “We have not seen any disruptions with any project since the shutdown began because these are all long-term projects that have already been funded.

“However, if the shutdown goes beyond more than a few days, into several weeks’ duration, we could see problems with government staff on furlough who would not be able to review technical drawings and other materials before we could proceed. At that point, we would become quite concerned.”

Operations at the nuclear weapons parts plant operated by Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies for the Department of Energy continue as usual. The operation, which employs 2,100 people, is being transferred from the Bannister Federal Complex to a new campus at Missouri 150 and Botts Road.

“The only thing we do know is if it goes a long time, it could cause problems,” said Joe Capra, business agent for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 778, which represents many of the Honeywell workers.

• Smaller companies that benefit from loan programs through the Small Business Administration are OK if they’re already approved, but new loans will have to await the reopening of the agency.

“The SBA program is offline,” Fullerton said. “There’s no problems right now, but if this continues to go on, that pipeline of projects could have some challenges.”

Commerce Bank, a preferred lender in the SBA program, is still processing loan applications but will be unable to issue loans without the agency’s final approval.

“It hasn’t put a halt to our work as a whole,” said Angela Wright-Jones, the assistant vice president at the bank managing the SBA program.

• Businesses and economic development officials who rely on federal agencies for data also are flying blind these days.

“I went to the Census Bureau and couldn’t get any data,” said Frank Lenk, director of research services for the Mid-America Regional Council. “And if you were expecting the employment report Friday, you didn’t get it. There’s a ton of data that’s not being produced.”

And that can hamper the ability of anyone involved in charting the economy from doing their jobs.

• Finally, the federal shutdown could sour some business at Boulevard Brewing if it continues too long. That’s because the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau must sign off on many new recipes and labels the brewer decides to concoct.

“Right now we don’t have any applications pending, but if it stays shut down we likely will have some concerns,” said Payton Kelly, creative director at Boulevard. “We almost always have something in the running, but we’re several weeks away from needing to make a submission.

“If it happened a couple of weeks ago, it would be dicey.”

That’s because Boulevard wouldn’t have been able to release the latest offering in its Smokestack series, Reboot White IPA.

The Star’s Joe Robertson contributed to this report.

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at kckansascity.

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