State benefits continue for now

By the Herald staffOctober 1, 2013 

Refuge Closure Government

A sign recently posted at the entry to the Peninsula Unit of the McNary Wildlife Refuge off Hansen Loop Road in Burbank warns motorists Tuesday that the area is closed because of the federal government shutdown.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Reports began to trickle in Tuesday about how the federal shutdown is affecting Mid-Columbia residents.

Benefits for state Department of Social and Health Services clients receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Basic Food benefits will continue through the end of October, according to an agency news release.

In addition, Medicare, Medicaid and child support payments are not affected by a federal government shutdown at this time. All DSHS offices are open.

The Walla Walla Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as well as its clinics, will remain open during the shutdown. Spokeswoman Linda Wondra said Congress set aside a special appropriation of money in the fiscal year 2014 budget to keep the medical facilities from being impacted by the shutdown.

"We're all open, just like normal," she said. "There are no issues."

National parks, including Mount Rainier National Park, are closed.

The entire Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex has been closed, including to hunting. That also includes access to the White Bluffs boat ramp on the Columbia River during a chinook run so strong that Washington state has eased fishing restrictions.

The complex includes these national wildlife refuges: Columbia at Othello, Cold Spring at Hermiston, McKay creek at Pendleton, McNary at Burbank and Umatilla at Irrigon, plus the Hanford Reach National Monument at Richland.

The celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week planned for Saturday at the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge has been canceled.

The Bureau of Land Management is suspending most activities on its land, which includes Juniper Dunes in Franklin County.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission reminds visitors that state parks remain open and available as normal, moving into the fall and winter season, despite the federal government shutdown.

All state highways remain open during the shutdown, said Summer Derrey, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Transportation.

State highways that run through shuttered sites like Mt. Rainier National Park will not be affected, though drivers may be prevented from leaving the road to try to access park activities.

Road construction will not be impacted immediately, but the permitting process for new projects could be held up if the shutdown lasts longer than a month, Derrey said. Road construction is already expected to stop for the winter around that time.

Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds and day-use parks are closed, unless they are leased to partner agencies or concessionaires. Some parks also are closed because of the end of the summer season.

Closures include facilities at Hood Park, McNary Beach Park and West Park, all on Lake Wallula.

Mill Creek Park at Walla Walla is closed. In Franklin County, Lions Ferry Park near Starbuck is closed but the Lyons Ferry Marina is open.

Areas on Corps land not affected by the federal shutdown include the Ice Harbor Marina, Columbia Park, Sacajawea State Park, Two Rivers Park, Hover Park, Chiawana Park and Hat Rock State Park.

Visitors can check on the status of parks by going to and clicking the "recreation" button on the right-hand side. Individual partks that list the Corps under "operating agency" can be expected to be closed during the federal government shutdown.

Officials at Washington State University Tri-Cities and Columbia Basin College said there aren't any immediate effects from the federal government shutdown.

Melissa O'Neil Perdue, spokeswoman for WSU Tri-Cities, said most student financial aid, of which some comes from the federal government, has already been distributed for the current term. She had not heard of any programs experiencing problems because of the shutdown.

CBC spokesman Frank Murray said the college does have some programs that receive federal funding but their current budgets are based on money appropriated last year.

Operations in Eastern Washington's three federal courthouses will proceed for about two weeks, but may be in a severe financial bind if the shutdown lasts past mid-October.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington announced Tuesday that it doesn't anticipate "any significant impact on the court services."

In addition to the Federal Building in Richland, the district's two other federal courthouses are in Yakima and Spokane.

The federal judiciary has the funding available to continue operations "utilizing fees and no-year appropriations for an estimated 10 business days," or through Oct. 15.

The court is making contingency plans for beyond that point, and encourages the public to check for updates if the shutdown persists and conditions change.

Unemployment claims will continue to be processed by the state Department of Employment Security for the time being.

The department will have to revisit that decision if the shutdown lasts more than a few weeks, according to a press release. The federal government continues to provide funding for the benefits themselves, but federal administrative funds for processing and paying claims have ended.

WorkSource centers will remain open and continue to offer most employment services.

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