Effects of federal shutdown felt at home
By Stephanie Lulay and Kalyn Belsha email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org October 2, 2013 7:00PM
Updated: November 4, 2013 12:17PM
AURORA — Although they continue day-to-day operations, some local agencies funded by the federal government are feeling the effects of the government shutdown in other ways.
The Aurora Housing Authority isn’t cutting staff and could sustain operations on current funding through spring 2014, but Executive Director Keith Gregory said the agency’s major projects are affected by staff furloughs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“HUD has taken a very large brunt of the cuts as far as the shutdown,” Gregory said.
Gregory could previously get approvals via a quick phone call, but on Wednesday, those HUD supervisors weren’t at work.
“The challenge becomes when we want to do things that require HUD approval,” he said. “I have to make decisions and hope later on we weren’t in violations of any guidelines.”
This specifically affects pending plans for the AHA to lease land at Jericho Circle, as HUD officials were reviewing preliminary documents when the shutdown began.
“When they come back to work, that won’t be priority number one,” Gregory said.
Across the country, programs that offer federally funded preschool for low-income children age five and under — known as Head Start — are shutting their doors.
According to the National Head Start Association, a nonprofit based just outside Washington, D.C., an estimated 19,000 children nationwide have either lost or may lose those education services due to the government shutdown.
So far, the cuts are affecting 23 programs in 11 states, including Alabama and South Carolina.
For now, Two Rivers Head Start Agency, which has 14 locations from Aurora to Elgin to Yorkville, is open.
But Diane Lacey, the agency’s executive director, said Wednesday she wasn’t sure what would happen if federal funding is cut off much longer.
“At this point we can’t get in touch with our program specialists,” Lacey said.
Like many other federal websites, the Office of Head Start homepage has a message scrawled in red alerting providers that the information it provides may be out of date and that the agency “may not be able to respond to inquiries” until funding is restored.
The Federal Aviation Administration facilities in Elgin and Aurora may see some of their non-air traffic controller staff called back from furloughs depending on the length of the shutdown.
“The FAA has prepared a contingency plan in which air traffic controllers and other essential employees will continue working in order to maintain the safety of the national airspace system. If the furlough extends longer than a few days, we will incrementally begin to recall specific employees back to work to meet continuing safety needs,” said Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs in Washington, D.C.
Those personnel include safety inspectors, engineers and technical support staff.
There are 94 employees at the Elgin-based Trancon center, and 398 at the Aurora en route center, she said.
U.S. Rep offices
Out of the 16 staffers working for U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, only five are working during the shutdown — two in Hultgren’s Geneva office and three in Washington D.C., said Hultgren Chief of Staff Katherine McGuire. Hultgren is a Republican from Winfield.
Megan Jacobs, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Democrat from Naperville, said no Foster staffers have been furloughed at this time.
“We have kept our staff on to serve our constituents,” she said.
Ed Fenelon, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Romeroville, said the center’s communications staff has been furloughed, but meteorologists remain on duty.
“We remain on duty as it pertains directly to our mission of protecting the safety of lives and property,” he said.
Local Social Security agencies, except for card centers, will be open for a limited numbers of services, according to a recording. The automated phone system encouraged residents to apply for services online.
Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham said his office is processing passports as usual, but does not know how quickly applications will be turned around.
The Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission, a county office, continues to file veterans claims for federal benefits and operate as normal.
Janelle Walker contributed to this report.