Workers, agencies feeling the pinch as shutdown lengthens

alopez@macon.comOctober 2, 2013 

With no sign of resolution on the horizon, several Middle Georgia groups and agencies prepared for the worst Wednesday because of the ongoing stalemate in Congress.

The team at the 21st Century Partnership is putting together a plan to address the effects of furloughs at Robins Air Force Base, which are hitting about 4,000 workers. Right now, they are waiting for the latest forecast from Washington, D.C., and are in the “information gathering phase.” Lawmakers in Washington said the shutdown could continue for two weeks or longer.

“We exist to enhance the military value of Robins Air Force Base and the resiliency of Middle Georgia,” said Chrissy Miner, the group’s chief operating officer. “We advocate for the workforce.”

When 15,000 base employees were furloughed earlier this year, the nonprofit group organized an event to inform those affected of resources available to them, including counseling, financial guidance and supplemental income opportunities.

For veterans, health services are continuing normally at Carl Vinson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dublin, said Frank Jordan, in the public affairs office.

Although health care for veterans is funded for now, many of the services associated with the Veterans Administration -- including educational and vocational guidance -- have been suspended. Of its more than 21,000 employees nationally, more than 7,000 are furloughed.

A field guide to the government shutdown is available online at the Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Reduced services and the threat of hardship were evident elsewhere across the midstate.

For now, employees at the Women, Infants and Children program in Macon are working as usual, but they don’t know how much longer they will be able to keep the doors open.

On Wednesday, a steady stream of mothers with their children arrived to receive food assistance vouchers.

Kimberley Miller juggled her two sons, one close to his first birthday and one 8 years old, as she sat in the WIC office lobby. She visits the office every three months to receive vouchers for milk and cereal.

“If they cut it, it will be bad for a lot of people,” she said. “Baby milk is like $14 a can, so some people that are less fortunate can’t purchase that on their own.”

Georgia administers the fifth largest WIC program in the country, according to the 2013 WIC state plan. It serves more than 300,000 participants each month and contributes more than $250 million to the state economy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds the program, explained in a recent memo that the 10,000 WIC clinics across the country would have enough funds to operate for a week or so. And after that, the states most in need might be able to get contingency funding.

Worried that all government buildings were closed, Brenda Phillips of Macon ventured to the Social Security Administration office on Riverside Drive Wednesday hoping to get a duplicate Social Security card. There she found a sign explaining what services would be offered during the federal government shutdown.

People will be able to apply for benefits, request appeals and change their address and direct deposit information. They will not be able to pick up original or replacement cards, request benefit verifications or correct earnings records.

Phillips knows that her duplicate Social Security card is not a priority. She is more worried about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopping outbreak investigations and the Food and Drug Administration stopping food inspections.

She has a message for Congress.

“Think about how this is hurting our country and economy,” she said. “Come to a resolution.”

Phillips blames lawmakers obsessed with defunding Obamacare.

“It’s a shame. People deserve health care,” she said. “I’ll remember this next time I vote.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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