September 15, 2014

USDA closed due to shutdown

Overall effect on county minor

Tim Barnum
The Standish USDA Service Center, which includes the office of the Arenac County Conservation District, is closed due to the federal government shutdown.
Posted

STANDISH — Area farmers interested in enrolling in conservation programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Natural Resources Conservation Service will have to wait until the partial government shutdown that took effect Oct. 1 is over.

People who may have attempted to stop by the office, which is located at the corner of M-61 and Deep River Road, have greeted by a sign informing them of the situation.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture office is currently closed, due to the lapse in federal funding,” the sign read. “The office will reopen once Congress restores funding.”

According to the USDA’s voice mail greeting, federal employees of the Standish field office are on furlough due to the shutdown.

“We are not in the office at this time,” the greeting said. “We are on furlough due to the lapse in federal government funding. We do not have access to email or voice mail during this time.”

While employees of the federal government are furloughed, others who use the office building were forced to work from home. The Arenac County Conservation District operates out of the USDA building, and administrator Dawn Hergott said it has been difficult keeping in contact with clients due to the building being closed. She has set up a temporary office space in her kitchen.

“You can’t be as organized. You can’t be efficient,” she said. “People can’t contact us as easily. Even though we’re trying to let them know what’s going on, they’re used to going to that building and through that door.”

Hergott and the conservation district’s technician, who works with farmers on the Farm Service Agency’s CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) and NRCS’s Conservation Reserve Program, both had to vacate the office building by noon Oct. 1.

“I’m working out of my home and so is my technician,” she said. “We had to kind of pack up all the important documents that we would need to use, and bring home the laptop and printers and things we would need.”

While the USDA building and the people who worked there are feeling the effects of the shutdown, elsewhere in Arenac County, the effects have not set in. According to the usa.gov website, many federal programs are continuing to operate.

The website said Social Security beneficiaries will continue receiving their checks; the postal service will continue to deliver mail; active military will continue to serve; air traffic controllers, prison guards and border patrol agents will remain on the job; and NASA Mission Control will continue to support astronauts serving on the space station.

West Branch Postmaster Sheryl Brock told the Independent’s sister publication the Ogemaw County Herald Oct. 4 the post office has not been affected by the lack of a budget compromise in Washington, D.C.

“It’s business as usual for us,” she said. “We’re not funded by tax dollars. We’re funded by postage stamp sales and the packages that are sent out.”

Information posted on the Social Security website states that field offices are still open, but with limited services. Only the following services will be provided at Social Security field offices: help in applying for benefits, assistance in requesting an appeal, changing addresses or direct deposit information, accepting reports of death, verifying or changing of citizenship status, replacing a lost or missing Social Security payment, issuing a critical payment, changing a representative payee and processing a change in living arrangement or income.

The field offices will be unable to issue or replace Social Security cards, replace Medicare cards or issue proof of income letters.

All U.S. national parks and monuments have been closed due to the shutdown, according to usa.gov. New applications for small business loans and loan guarantees were also immediately halted.

The site states that call centers, hotlines and regional offices that help veterans understand their benefits will be closed to the public.

Veterans’ compensation, pension, education and other services could also be cut off if the shutdown lasts for an extended amount of time, the website states.

The VA’s website and social media sites will only be updated intermittently, and Freedom of Information Act requests and Privacy Act requests will not be processed. Presidential Memorial certificates will not be processed during the shutdown, and internments at national cemeteries will be conducted on a reduced schedule.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states My HealtheVet services will continue in full capacity, and claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October. Those programs may be suspended in the event of an extended shutdown when funding is exhausted.

Insurance processing and home loan processing will continue, as will the Veterans Crisis Line.

Managing Editor Eric Young contributed to this story.

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