Georgia feels impact from partial federal shutdown

The federal funding lapse, now the second-longest on the books, is beginning to be acutely felt on the ground in Georgia as the impasse approaches its third week.

Nearly 16,000 Georgians, or roughly 22 percent of the state's federal civilian workforce, are furloughed or working without pay, according to Governing Magazine, and several agencies that have subsisted on leftover money in recent weeks are not expected to make payroll Friday.

That’s left many Georgians, as well as dozens of universities, state agencies and localities that rely on Washington dollars for paychecks, grants and other activities, in a state of limbo — or panic.

Some federal employees have scrambled for second jobs or no-interest loans to help them cover rent or grocery bills. A local pre-k teacher worried about the funding that covers meals for her low-income students. And farmers who need to settle their outstanding bills with lenders have had to maneuver without the guidance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s farm service centers ahead of the planting season.

There’s no guarantee federal workers will receive back pay once leaders come to an agreement on border security funding, although Congress has passed legislation to pay furloughed workers in the past.

The Trump administration this week averted two of the biggest looming uncertainties brought about by the shutdown: tax refunds and February food stamp payments. But the lack of political clarity from Washington has slowed other facets of life in Georgia, from fledgling brewers and Delta Air Lines looking for federal sign-offs to proceed with new business ventures and employers seeking to check the immigration status of prospective workers.

The consequences of the border impasse have even filtered down to the banks of the Chattahoochee River, where volunteers have congregated to collect trash as most park rangers have been put on furlough.

Here’s a look at what the shutdown has meant for Georgia:

Farmers: The funding lapse has stalled the Trump administration's payments to farmers hit by recent Chinese tariffs. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, announced this week that his department would extend the deadline for farmers to apply for the second round of payments. An early casualty of the shutdown was the government's local farm service centers, which are sprinkled in towns throughout the state and help farmers apply for federal assistance programs. The centers also function as a lender of last resort for farmers who can't secure private credit. The agency was also forced to delay a major crop report originally slated for release Friday that farmers rely on to evaluate market conditions. Food inspectors are still on the job, albeit working without pay.

Investigations: The U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta, which is helping investigate Atlanta City Hall corruption charges and the Equifax cyberbreach, has been operating at about 60 percent capacity since the shutdown started. Prosecutors and staff on the criminal side of the office have remained on the job, but civil cases have been halted amid the lapse in funding, U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak said. "When it comes to public safety, nothing is going to stop," Pak said. "That's our priority No. 1." So far, the shutdown hasn't affected any cases. To help ensure furloughed staffers will at least receive some pay when the government reopens, Pak said the criminal and civil staff will rotate between being on duty and furloughed.

Courts: Federal courts in the Northern District of Georgia and the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have cobbled together funds to last through Jan. 18. The courts will continue to operate after that point if funds aren't appropriated, but staff will go without pay. Jurors called into service also won't be paid after that date if federal funding isn't restored. Even if courts remain open, the shutdown will result in delays for cases involving federal agencies that are affected. For example, the Federal Trade Commission has suspended most operations, and work on ongoing investigations ceased and the agency may seek stays for ongoing litigation. This means that important consumer protection investigations and cases will be put on hold.

Universities: Georgia colleges and universities are nervously watching the shutdown, worried that an extended funding lapse could stall pending research grant applications. While some major research agencies such as the National Institutes of Health previously received funding from Congress, others have been largely shuttered, including the National Science Foundation. Emory University said it has about 50 pending NSF grants. A Morehouse School of Medicine spokeswoman said the school is watching carefully and noted that roughly 70 percent of its annual research funding of $26.6 million comes from federal grants, although its biggest sources of funding at the Department of Health and Human Services remain operational.

Parks: With most park rangers and maintenance workers furloughed, conditions on Georgia's federal parkland have varied greatly. There haven't been widespread reports of refuse piling up locally like there have been at bigger parks such as Yosemite, but visitors to Georgia's still-open historic sites have been greeted by locked bathrooms and sealed-off trash cans. At the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, visitors have been able to wander around the grounds but have been barred from touring exhibits or the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains has been closed "for resource protection and safety," and its social media feeds have been left dormant.

State government: Federal money makes up about one-third of Georgia's annual budget, and there are some state officials whose salaries are paid by the feds and could be furloughed if the state doesn't front the money to keep them at work. A recent memo from Teresa MacCartney, Gov. Nathan Deal's budget chief, reminded state agency heads not to "incur expenses for which there are no federal appropriations during this time" and directed them to outline the impact an extended federal shutdown would have on their operations. The bulk of the money that passes to and through states is not affected by the shutdown, said John Hicks, the executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers. That includes Medicaid, highway dollars, k-12 funding from the Department of Education and Labor Department workforce training programs. But the funding lapse comes at an inopportune time for many Georgia agencies that are transitioning their leadership as incoming Gov. Brian Kemp takes over from Deal.

Aviation & airports: Transportation Security Agency officers, air traffic controllers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are still on the job at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, although they aren't getting paid. It's a different story for many Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors and engineers who have been furloughed. Some airports have been affected by an increase in TSA workers calling in sick, but lines at the Atlanta airport have so far not appeared to be much longer than normal. Still, the airport is offering free parking for TSA screeners during the shutdown and increased the number of customer service staffers stationed throughout the airport. Washington's border standoff could also have an impact on Delta, which is waiting for the FAA to certify a new class of Airbus A220 jets the airline is hoping to begin flying later this month.

Other impacts: The partial government shutdown is affecting the state in other ways. A National Transportation Safety Board report into a fatal Dec. 20 plane crash in Atlanta may be delayed. Local employers seeking to check the immigration status of potential employees have been cut off from the government's E-Verify system. Brewers in Georgia have been barred from releasing new beers while their federal regulator, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, remains shuttered. Some real estate agents have reported prospective home buyers reversing course due to economic uncertainty. Many local government contractors fear they won't receive back pay for their work. But still, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Labor said the state has not seen a jump in unemployment claims compared with this time last year.

What's not affected: Congress has already approved funding for about 75 percent of the government, including for Georgia's largest federal employers: the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social Security checks are being paid and the U.S. Postal Service, which is largely self-funded, is still delivering mail. The Atlanta Federal Reserve is operational, too, since it's considered an independent entity within the government. Several programs of major importance to parents, including Head Start and the Children's Health Insurance Program, the federal parent to PeachCare, are also fully funded.

What's still unclear: Several components of the social safety net. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, feeds more than 1.5 million low-income Georgians and has enough money to cover benefits through February. But there are significant fears that an extended shutdown could lead to rationing or even the cessation of benefits. Ditto for several child nutrition programs run by the Department of Agriculture, as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which provides food, infant formula and other support for the mothers of roughly half of all babies born in the U.S., according to Politico.

Read more about what a federal shutdown means for Georgia.

Staff writers Ben Brasch, Jennifer Brett, Arlinda Smith Broady, Matt Kempner, Lois Norder, Bill Rankin, James Salzer, Eric Stirgus, J. Scott Trubey and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.

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