Shumlin condemns federal government shutdown
CAMP JOHNSON — The government shutdown, now in its second week, has ceased operations in all government offices, putting thousands of government workers on furlough and stopping funding to federal programs across the country. On Monday, Gov. Peter Shumlin, joined by Vermont National Guard Maj. Gen. Steven Cray and other state officials at Camp Johnson in Colchester, outlined the growing effects of the federal shutdown on Vermonters.
The base was an appropriate setting for the conference. It is home to the Vermont National Guard, which furloughed nearly 450 military technicians with the federal shutdown and postponed training for about 3,000 soldiers and airmen this past weekend. Maj. Gen. Cray said that while implementation of the Pay Our Military Act over the weekend allowed the base to recall the technicians to start the workweek on Monday and Tuesday, the Vermont National Guard still lacks funds for training or buying parts, fuel or ammunition.
“Although we’ll have our employees back, and that is good and important, they’re not able to do most of their jobs,” he said. “That readiness level will continue to drop every day that we are not back at work and not able to train.”
Shumlin underscored Cray’s point.
“Let’s remember that the men and women who serve in our National Guard do so because they love their country and they love their state,” Shumlin said. “They often take a pay cut to serve. When we ask them in addition to working for wages that are not all that generous, to lose a paycheck or to delay a paycheck, it has a devastating effect on them and on their families.”
“Not fair. Not right. We’ve got to fix it,” he added.
Shumlin and members of his administration enumerated ways the Oct. 1 government shutdown is affecting functions in the state, beginning first with Vermont’s 5,000 federal employees.
Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding told the assembled crowd that the state was able to cover most of the temporary loss of federal funds. State employees paid with federal funds, such as the National Guard, are still at work. Payroll and some benefits programs are intact and functioning until at least through October.
Should the shutdown continue, thousands of Vermonters stand to lose multiple forms of federal assistance. Including: Over 16,000 on temporary assistance to needy families (Reach Up), roughly 14,000 benefiting from federal rent assistance, 500 foster families, 40 percent of students enrolled in Head Start programs, and 17,000 elderly and disabled Vermonters receiving federal SNAP (supplementary food) benefits. While temperatures continue to drop, the state is also unable to draw on funds for federal heat assistance.
“That means that there are hundreds if not more Vermonters who are seeing their lives disrupted and pain added to their lives right now,” Spaulding said. “The longer this drags on, the greater the likelihood that many more Vermonters will be seriously impacted.”
Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan said unemployment claims doubled last week, with 438 new claims filed by federal employees in Vermont. More claims came later in the week from employees at small businesses that work directly with the federal government. Noonan also added the closing of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics prevented her department from getting an accurate unemployment number, which was scheduled for release on Oct. 22.
Shumlin repeatedly indicated his frustration with the government shutdown, referring to the behavior of Congress as “a manufactured crisis” and likening it to that of a developing country. He also added the situation will worsen if Congress does not act to reauthorize the debt ceiling by Oct. 17.
“We’re going to be facing a colossal financial challenge for Vermont and a colossal financial challenge for America,” he said.
While he did applaud the actions of the Vermont delegation in Congress, Shumlin said that citizens wanting to do something to end the shutdown are powerless.
“Aside from expressing their outrage to the folks in Congress who are creating this crisis,” Shumlin said, “we’re kind of held hostage to a Congress that seems to put political ideology and political fights over the interests of the country.”
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