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Mid-Missouri programs, services feel impact of government shutdown

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | 9:43 p.m. CDT; updated 9:59 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Columbia College and MU Air Force ROTC students perform a formal retreat the same day the federal government announced it would not continue financial assistance to military students during the government shutdown.

COLUMBIA — The government shutdown has left some services in mid-Missouri at a standstill.

After Congress failed to come to an agreement to fund federal agencies Monday night, government agencies on Tuesday suspended some services and told their "non-essential" workers not to come in. Several agencies were completely closed, including the National Forest Service, while others were stripped down to their basic operations.

Some programs, such as Social Security and the Postal Service, are relatively safe from furlough. Others, such as Columbia's Head Start program and some veterans' benefits, will be affected only if the shutdown lasts for a lengthy period of time.

Feeling the blow

Flu program: According to a Department of Health and Human Services memo, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be "unable to support the annual seasonal influenza program" without federal funding. The CDC will also be unable to provide "support to state and local partners for infectious disease surveillance."

Internal Revenue Service: All Internal Revenue Service offices are closed, including Jefferson City's Taxpayer Assistance Center, according to the IRS voicemail greeting. Deadlines are not affected, and all payments should be made on time.

National parks and forests: The website for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways redirected to a page that said all national parks were closed "because of the federal government shutdown." The page also said that National Park Service Web pages were not operating.

The Mark Twain National Forest, which is funded through the Agriculture Department, will be closed until the government reopens. According to the forest’s voice mail greeting, the "office is currently closed due to the furlough and lapse in federal government funding. Our office will reopen when funding is available."

U.S. Geological Survey: The Columbia Environmental Research Center, a U.S. Geological Survey research facility, is closed until a budget or continuing resolution is passed, according to a sign on the building's door. The U.S. Geological Survey’s website is also unavailable. The website's landing page states that "only websites necessary to protect lives and property will be maintained" during the shutdown.

Veterans: Carol Fleisher, director of the MU Veterans Center, said that some workers in the regional Veterans Affairs office in St. Louis have been furloughed and that processing for GI Bill funds for recipients in the mid-Missouri area will be slower than normal.

Some disability claims and pension payments could disappear, according to The Washington Post. Department of Veterans Affairs officials said they will not have the money to provide those payments if the shutdown lasts for more than two or three weeks.

Veterans at MU: The MU Veterans Center will remain open. Fleisher said the center is funded through MU, so it will not be affected by the shutdown.

However, tuition assistance, or financial aid to some veterans, will be stopped for classes starting on or after Oct. 1, according to an email sent to Fleisher by GoArmyEd. All soldier accounts will be on hold, and new accounts will not be processed until after the shutdown. Classes with a start date during the shutdown will not be processed for tuition assistance.

Military loans at Columbia College: Columbia College will offer a six-month extended payment plan for military service members as a result of the shutdown. Students eligible for military tuition assistance who have applied for or have on file a current Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are eligible for the payment plan.

"Their continuing education is more important to us than getting immediate payment right now," said Mike Lederle, assistant dean of Military and Federal Programs at the college.

Students who have exhausted all alternative funding options will be able to withdraw from courses without penalty.

The program will defer tuition charges for the term that begins Oct. 21, while students relying on military tuition assistance seek other funding.

Military veterans and dependents make up 25 percent to 30 percent of the Columbia College student population, Lederle said.

"They're asking, 'What are we going to do? How can I continue to go to school?'" he said.

Columbia College also took action in March 2013 when tuition assistance was suspended for all military branches during the sequestration.

"(The shutdown) is more encompassing and it affects more people," Lederle said.

He said he doesn't think that federal financial aid will be affected in the short term, but the existence of funds remains uncertain if the shutdown continues.

"We don't have a crystal ball here," Lederle said. "We want to make sure they have an option to continue their education."

Safe, for now

Air traffic control system: The air traffic control system across the nation is running as usual, said Steven Sapp, public information specialist for Columbia Public Works. The system is funded through Oct. 31, but it is uncertain what will happen after that point if the shutdown continues.

Head Start: Head Start is still up and running, said Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, which runs Head Start in eight mid-Missouri counties. Although Head Start has a federal contract, the Administration for Children and Families appropriated funds for the program last year. Preis said the threat to Head Start would be from a long-term government shutdown, but he said he does not think the shutdown will last very long.

Relatively unaffected

Federal Housing Administration: According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's voice mail greeting, the department has closed and is unavailable to answer questions, but the Federal Housing Administration Resource Center will remain open.

Federal Student Aid: An announcement on the Federal Student Aid website states that officials expect "limited impact to the federal student aid application (FAFSA) process, to the delivery of federal student aid, or to the federal student loan repayment functions."

Hunting and fishing licenses: Hunting and fishing licenses are issued by the state, so there shouldn't be any problems for Missouri residents planning for hunting season.

Postal service: The Columbia post office remains unaffected by the government shutdown for now, and mail will be delivered as usual.

The office will be open for its regular operating hours, which are 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. All customer services are still available, including passport processing.

Social Security: Columbia's Social Security office will remain open during normal hours. It will still provide services such as changing addresses or direct deposit information, issuing or replacing Social Security and critical payments, and helping with applications for benefits. The office cannot replace Medicare cards or issue proof of income letters, but those services are still available online.

The form to issue new or replacement Social Security cards is also available online, but forms will not be processed during the shutdown, Columbia Assistant District Manager Matt Skelton said.

More information is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/shutdown/.

Truman Veterans Hospital: Truman Veterans Hospital spokesman Stephen Gaither said the hospital has funds through the end of September 2014 and is unaffected by the shutdown.

"The reason there is no effect on Truman VA or the VA health care system is that we have a two-year appropriation," he said. "We had a budget for fiscal year '13 and a budget for fiscal year '14, which started today."

Sky Chadde, Ashley Crawford, Crystal Thomas and T.J. Thomson contributed to this report.

Supervising editors are Stephanie Ebbs and Margaux Henquinet.


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Comments

Ellis Smith October 2, 2013 | 7:57 a.m.

Mein Gott! Do you mean to say (caption of one of the photos) that higher education establishments in Columbia, Missouri not only still have deans but also ASSISTANT deans? Are there assistants to those assistants? Holy overstaffing, Batman!

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