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Shutdown impact: Gov't urges furlough compassion

2:31 PM, Oct 16, 2013   |    comments
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(AP) -- The government is urging creditors to "remain patient and show compassion" for hundreds of thousands federal workers who remain furloughed without a paycheck.

Some agencies are offering employees a cover letter that explains to creditors that the shutdown is "beyond on our employees' control and they will be returned to pay status as soon as possible."

But financial impact of the shutdown goes far beyond the federal workforce. Local tourism businesses, for example, are losing millions because some national parks are still closed.

And at research centers, some work has stopped. Included in that research: Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh had to suspend a study of how long children with urinary tract infections really needed to take antibiotics.

Researchers are turning away calls from emergency rooms and pediatricians seeking to enroll more of their patients in the study, which if it works could mean fewer side effects for kids - and possibly decrease antibiotic resistance as well, , said Dr. Alejandro Hoberman, the hospital's vice chairman of research. Why? Furloughed workers at the National Institutes of Health were responsible for some safety oversight.

"This is a setback," he said, saying he feels growing frustration with the shutdown's trickle-down impact. "It could take months or longer" to get back on track.

Among the other services affected by the shutdown:

TRAVEL

Federal air traffic controllers remain on the job and airport screeners continue to funnel passengers through security checkpoints. Furloughs of 2,900 Federal Aviation Administration inspectors had put safety oversight of planes, pilots and aircraft repair stations on hold, but the FAA later recalled about 800 employees - including some inspectors - to work. The State Department continues processing foreign applications for visas and U.S. applications for passports, since fees are collected to finance those services. Embassies and consulates overseas remain open and are providing services for U.S. citizens abroad.

Also, about 2,300 of the 18,500 staff originally furloughed by the Department of Transportation have been recalled. Most are FAA engineers, inspectors, and safety staff who provide oversight of aviation parts and airlines. However, other transportation employees were recalled to assist with the emergency response to Tropical Storm Karen. Most of those employees have subsequently been furloughed again.

CONSUMER SAFETY

The National Transportation Safety Board is not investigating most transportation accidents, making an exception only if officials believe lives or property are in danger. The agency suspended 1,500 investigations that were underway before the shutdown. Thirteen recent accidents - including a bus crash that killed eight people in Tennessee and a battery fire in a Tesla S electric car - are not being investigated. The board has also turned down several requests from other countries and the State Department for help with aviation accidents outside the U.S. even when U.S.-manufactured planes are involved.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they can handle recalls and high-risk foodborne outbreaks, but discovering them will be more difficult because many of the people who investigate outbreaks have been furloughed. Routine food safety inspections were suspended, so most food manufacturers won't have to worry about periodic visits from government inspectors. U.S. food inspections abroad have also been halted. USDA inspectors are on the lines every day in meatpacking plants and are required to be there by law for the plants to stay open.

Auto recalls and investigations of safety defects have been put on hold during the partial government shutdown. The public can still file safety complaints through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website, but no one has been investigating them in the new fiscal year. Manufacturers can still voluntarily recall vehicles, but major recalls are typically negotiated between the government and automakers.

HEALTH RESEARCH

New patients are generally not being accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, but current patients continue to receive care. NIH has made rare exceptions, about a dozen in the first week of the shutdown, to allow patients with immediately life-threatening illnesses into research studies at its renowned hospital. Normally, about 200 new patients every week enroll in studies at the NIH's research-only hospital, many of them after standard treatments have failed. Medical research at the NIH has been disrupted as some studies have been delayed.

With two-thirds of personnel sent home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been severely limited in spotting or investigating disease outbreaks such as the flu or that mysterious MERS virus from the Middle East. The FDA has halted the review and approval of new medical products and drugs.

AMERICAN INDIANS

The Chippewa Cree Tribe in central Montana declared a financial disaster this week due to the federal government shutdown. The tribe warned that nearly all tribal offices will be closed and programs halted if the budget stalemate in Congress isn't resolved by Thursday. A spokesman said the tribe already has cut back hours, furloughed staff and limited services after federal money for tribal programs was cut off following the Oct. 1 shutdown.

ENGINEERS

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has temporarily closed its New England regulatory office because of a lack of funds while the federal government is shut down. The New England district office serves Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. It regulates work, structures and dredging in or near navigable waters and related wetlands. Emergency activity should not be affected, but the office won't be able to evaluate individual permit applications, pre-construction notifications for regional general permit authorizations, or requests for jurisdictional determinations until the office is able to reopen.

BENEFIT PAYMENTS

Social Security and Medicare benefits continue to be paid out, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications. Unemployment benefits are also still going out.

The Social Security Administration delayed the announcement of the size of next year's cost-of-living adjustment, which was supposed to be released Wednesday. According to an analysis by The Associated Press, preliminary figures suggest next year's benefit increase will be roughly 1.5 percent. The increase is small because consumer prices haven't gone up much the past year. For the second year in a row, it would be one of the lowest raises since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975.

FEDERAL COURTS

Federal courts, which have been using fees and other funds to operate since the shutdown began, will have enough money to operate through Oct. 18, according to a statement from the administrative office of the U.S. Courts. After that, the courts would run out of money and shut down all nonessential work.

A limited number of workers would perform essential work, while all others would be furloughed. Each court would make a determination on what is essential and nonessential. Judges would still be able to seat jurors, but the jurors won't be paid until Congress provides funding. Court-appointed lawyers would also not get paid.

The Supreme Court opened its term Monday and says its business will go on through Friday, October 18, and then after depending on appropriations from Congress.

VETERANS SERVICES

Veterans are still able to get health care through VA hospitals and outpatient clinics because Congress approved funding for VA health care programs one year in advance.

The department administers numerous benefits for veterans and survivors such as disability pay, pensions and tuition reimbursement. The VA has warned Congress that it will be unable to make next month's payments for those various benefits if the shutdown continues into late October. This would affect more than 5 million veterans.

Even though the vast majority of VA workers remain on the job, some services have suffered. The department's efforts to reduce the disability claims backlog has faltered largely because processors are no longer being required to work 20 hours of overtime per month.

Veterans also rely on a variety of programs offered through other departments. The Small Business Administration has halted training and counseling for veterans trying to start a business. The Department of Labor has largely ended its job training services for veterans. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is not issuing vouchers to newly homeless vets, though those already receiving housing vouchers will still get them.

HOUSING

Though some homebuyers and sellers have faced delays due to the shutdown, the problems have been mostly scattered and not a huge headache, according to housing industry officials.

Some lenders had trouble confirming applicants' income tax returns and Social Security data due to the cutbacks at government agencies and that has stalled some mortgage closings. But some banks have eased their rules to give borrowers ways to get around such problems on a temporary basis, and that's helped prevent large logjams.

Rural areas were hit by delays in closing on loans backed by the Department of Agriculture that were frozen in the shutdown. Borrowers won't be able to finalize their deals until the shutdown ends. Because there's no down payment requirement, the USDA's rural development loans are popular with many first-time homebuyers and modest-income borrowers.

The shutdown also stalled loans for some first-time homebuyers and low- to moderate-income borrowers with Federal Housing Administration loans since many of the workers who process mortgage guarantees for the agency were furloughed. About 15 percent of new loans for home purchases are insured by the FHA. Condominium loans are not being processed by the FHA.

MILITARY

The military's 1.4 million active-duty personnel remain on duty. About half of the Defense Department's civilian employees were furloughed, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered nearly all 350,000 back on the job. Congress has ensured $100,000 payments to families of fallen service members would continue, passing a bill signed by President Barack Obama on Thursday. The payments had been suspended during the shutdown, prompting the Fisher House Foundation to volunteer to make the payments until the program got up and running again.

The military has also stopped providing tuition assistance for service members taking college courses during off-duty hours.

RED KING CRAB-NO FISHING

Alaska's multimillion-dollar red king crab season opened this week, but most of the participating boats remain at dock because federal managers who are supposed to set individual fishing quotas are among workers still furloughed in the partial shutdown. The state assigns some quotas, so a few boats are able to fish. But crabbers in the much larger haul fear that a late opening of the Bristol Bay fishery made famous by the Discovery Channel reality show, "Deadliest Catch," will slash into their profits from the lucrative holiday market in Japan.

RECREATION

All national parks closed when the shutdown began, but the Obama administration said last week it would allow states to use their own money to reopen some of them.

Utah was the first state to take up the offer, and all five national parks located in the state reopened Saturday. Colorado also reached agreement to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park and tourists returned Saturday to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. South Dakota, aided by several corporate donors, was paying the National Park Service to reopen Mount Rushmore, which started seeing tourists again Monday when about 3,000 people visited.

In Washington, monuments along the National Mall have been closed, as have the Smithsonian museums, including the National Zoo. Among the visitor centers that have closed: Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Alcatraz Island near San Francisco. The Statue of Liberty reopened Sunday with New York footing the bill.

ENVIRONMENT

At the Environmental Protection Agency, the shutdown means the agency can no longer certify whether vehicles meet emissions standards, delaying some new models from reaching car lots. New pesticides and industrial chemicals are also in limbo because the EPA has halted reviews of their health and environmental effects. And the nation's environmental police are no longer checking to see if polluters are complying with agreements to reduce their pollution.

EDUCATION

The impact of the shutdown on school districts, colleges and universities has been relatively minimal. Student loans have continued to be paid out. But school trips to national parks and museums have been canceled, and some university researchers have been unable to apply for grants or access government databases. Vocational rehabilitation programs helping adults with disabilities could begin to feel a pinch because these agencies receive 80 percent of their funding from the federal government.

TAXES

The Internal Revenue Service says more than 12 million taxpayers who filed for automatic extensions in the spring have tax returns due on Tuesday. Those returns, the agency says, are still due, regardless of the shutdown. The IRS suspended all audits and will not be processing any tax refunds during the shutdown.

Got questions? Sorry, IRS call centers will not be staffed, though automated lines are still running.

ECONOMIC DATA

It's harder to tell how well the economy is faring given that the array of economic reports measuring the health of the nation's economy have been postponed. The reports measure such things as monthly unemployment, inflation, imports and exports, and retail sales.

LAW ENFORCEMENT

The FBI estimates that about 80 percent of its 35,000 employees are working and says it is prepared to meet any immediate threats. However, activities are suspended for other, longer-term investigations of crimes. Training and other support functions have been slashed.

NATIONAL SECURITY

The CIA furloughed a "significant" but undisclosed number of workers when the shutdown began. A week later, CIA Director John Brennan said he would begin bringing back employees deemed necessary to the CIA's core missions of foreign intelligence collection, analysis, covert action and counterintelligence. He said continuing dramatically reduced staffing levels posed a threat to the safety of human life and the protection of property.

LABOR ISSUES

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will not investigate any charges of discrimination or respond to questions from the public during the shutdown. It will request delays in ongoing court proceedings and will not hold any hearings or mediations. The National Labor Relations Board, which investigates and remedies unfair labor practices, has virtually ceased to exist during the shutdown. More than 99 percent of its staff has been furloughed, postponing nearly every pending hearing, investigation and union election.

WEATHER

The National Weather Service is forecasting weather and issuing warnings while the National Hurricane Center continues to track storms. The scientific work of the U.S. Geological Survey has been halted.

___

Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard, Andrew Miga, Kevin Freking, Sam Hananel, Joan Lowy, Matthew Daly, Frederic J. Frommer, Hope Yen, Deb Riechmann, Dina Cappiello, Pete Yost, Stephen Ohlemacher, Lolita C. Baldor, Jesse J. Holland, Seth Borenstein, Mary Clare Jalonick, Alicia A. Caldwell, Jennifer C. Kerr, Kim Hefling and Rachel D'Oro contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

10/16/2013 3:24:27 PM (GMT -4:00)

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