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Last updated: Tue. Oct. 01, 2013 - 01:28 pm EDT

Shutdown: Repercussions to be felt in northeast Indiana

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Former Gov. Mitch Daniels used to say, "You'd be amazed how much government you'll never miss."

Northeast Indiana residents were on the verge of finding out.

Congress was unable Monday night to agree to a plan to extend federal appropriations past the end of the 2013 fiscal year – which came at midnight – so a partial government shutdown was set to begin.

The effects on northeast Indiana would depend on which parts of the government they might lose.

Certain discretionary spending, such as on national parks, was to end. But the nearest National Park Service sites closest to Fort Wayne are the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in northwest Indiana and the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in southeast Michigan.

Mandatory appropriations, including for Social Security, Medicare and the unfolding Affordable Care Act – the root cause of the congressional impasse – were safe from a shutdown. Mail will be delivered.

But gray areas exist. For instance, Maynard Scales, executive director of the Fort Wayne Housing Authority, said local officials did not know whether federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would be held up in the event of a government suspension.

"There may be resources available, but we're not sure if we'll have access to them," Scales said.

The FWHA owns and operates about 1,000 public housing units. Scales said cash reserves will allow the agency to keep them operating as usual for three or four months without federal payments. After that, layoffs or other cuts might be necessary, he said.

Scales said local officials don't know whether HUD will be processing payments for housing choice vouchers, formerly known as Section 8, which allow low-income clients to rent apartments for affordable prices from private landlords.

Scales said the agency will make the October payment, but landlords should watch the FWHA website and make contingency plans.

"We're assessing our ability to make payments beyond next month," he said. "At this point, we just don't know."

The Department of Veteran Affairs Northern Indiana Health Care System, which employs more than 600 at its Fort Wayne medical center on Lake Avenue, appears immune from any disruption in government services.

Michael Brady, public affairs officer for VANIHCS, said the system is operated by the Veterans Health Administration, which received advance appropriations for fiscal year 2014.

"This means that our hospitals, clinics and other health services will remain open," Brady said in an email.

According to VA's "appropriations lapse plan," the advance appropriations account for 86 percent of VA's discretionary budget. The plan states that military veterans' medical care, compensation and pension benefits, housing and burial services are "legally excepted" from a shutdown.

VA has projected "that 95 percent of VA employees would be either fully funded or required to perform excepted functions during a shutdown event."

It's a different story at the Air National Guard base on Fort Wayne's south side. About 200 civilian military technicians at the 122nd Fighter Wing were facing the possibility of an indefinite furlough.

They are the same employees who were supposed to be furloughed for 22 days this year under congressional budget cuts known as sequestration. Their unpaid leave was reduced to 11 days and then to six.

Even with furloughs, the base "will not shut down at all," Lt. Col Cathy Van Bree, public affairs officer for the Indiana National Guard, said in a telephone interview.

Van Bree said the 122nd Fighter Wing, which maintains and flies A-10 combat jets, would be staffed by active-duty Guard Reserve personnel assigned there. But those Reservists might see delays in their paychecks under a government shutdown, she said.

About 1,200 people are assigned to the Ferguson Road base, many of them in part-time positions. The civilian technicians make up two-thirds of the full-time staff.

Van Bree said about 12,000 traditional Air and Army Guardsmen across Indiana – those known as "weekend warriors" for their training schedules – would not report for duty if a government shutdown would persist.

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