How does the Fed shutdown affect Pittsburgh?

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In this Oct. 8, 2013, photo, Andrea Bentley, with the American Federation of Government Employees, protests the government shutdown outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. A new poll says Americans are holding Republicans primarily responsible for the partial government shutdown. The Associated Press-GfK survey finds plenty of disdain to go around as people size up the federal impasse. Most now disapprove of the way President Barack Obama is handling his job. And Congress’ approval rating is a perilous 5 percent. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

 

Justices at the US District Court building on Grant Street are still hearing cases, and the guards are still wanding visitors who set off the metal detectors—but that will change if the federal government shutdown lasts beyond the court’s current funding date of Oct. 15.

The justices will continue to be paid, but status of staff and security personnel depends on whether they are deemed “essential” or not. If not, they will be furloughed until a resolution to the budget impasse between Republicans in the US House and Democrats in the US Senate

Across the street at the Federal Building, however, IRS and Social Security personnel are still on hand to assist people. However, those waiting for the issuance or tax exemptions for nonprofit status, or ATF or DOT labeling approvals will be waiting longer, maybe a lot longer.

Calls to the US Attorney spokesperson Margaret Philbin went to voicemail. She was among the first furloughed.     

At the Pittsburgh FBI Office, however, spokesperson Kelly Kochamba said everyone is still working. Though she is doing so without pay, she noted per the Department of Justice website that “because all operations of the FBI are directed toward national security and investigations of violations of law involving protection of life and property…FBI agents and support personnel in the field are considered excepted from furlough.”

As far as Allegheny County government goes, the largest part of its budget—and the part that distributes the most in federal allocations—is the Department of Human Services.  Director Marc Cherna said the department hasn’t seen any adverse effects yet.

The only federal money we get directly—that isn’t funneled through the state is for Head Start. We’ve been told there will be a delay, but it’s coming,” he said. “We get some AmeriCorps money and HUD money, but HUD isn’t affected and our AmeriCorps bills aren’t due. Now down the road if this drags on it could get bad. But I couldn’t tell you where we’d see the slowdown because I just don’t know.”

At the city level, the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority are most directly reliant on federal funding. Robert Rubenstein, acting director for the URA echoed Cherna, saying nothing drastic is happening, yet.

“We participate in a lot of grant programs but they all have counterpart funding,” he said. “The kind of problem we’ll see is, for example, say I want to hire a contractor on this grant-funded job. I need to get that approved. It’s not much more than a formality but with the shutdown, there’s no one there to sign off.”

Rubenstein said if the shutdown drags on for a month or more, those delays could have a domino effect, with contractors laying off subcontractors and personnel because of delayed approvals.

“It could have an effect on cash flow,” he said.

At the Housing Authority, it’s a similar story. The real problem would be delays in grant proposal awards, like the one needed to massively rebuild Larimer. Even if approved, the shutdown will delay that approval perhaps by several months.

“We try to operate as a business and we actually budget for things like this because it’s happened before,” said spokesperson Michelle Jackson. “We are funded through October and have $20 million in reserves we can access, though of course, we’d rather not. Washington has its squabbles and we know that. We just hope they come to a resolution soon.”

Though the shutdown’s secondary effects—furloughed employees not spending money for lunches, parking, transit, etc.—are minimal now, an extended layoff could mean trouble for the businesses that rely on patronage of government workers, like those near the 911th Air Base.

President Obama said he would not negotiate with Republicans in the US House.  Republicans crafted budgets funding for everything except the Affordable Care Act.  Even if approved in a Senate vote, the president said he would veto such a bill.

The shutdown also threatens US solvency, as it makes a vote to raise the debt ceiling impossible. The US Treasury said, if no deal on the debt ceiling were reached by Oct. 17, the government would have to default on some of its obligations. The president wants to borrow an additional $1 trillion.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

 

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