A partial federal government shutdown is entering its third week as an impasse between lawmakers and the White House over funding for a southern border wall persists.
The extent of the shutdown’s impact on Douglas County is hard to gauge. Federal employees in the county are unavailable to discuss how the shutdown affects them because their offices are closed.
But officials from local agencies and governments such as the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians say the lack of communication with federal agencies makes operations harder. People at local organizations that receive federal funding say they can manage for a short time, but if the shutdown continues, they will have to make financial contingency plans. They’re cautiously optimistic lawmakers and President Donald Trump will pass a budget soon.
As of this March, there were 336 people working at federal agencies in Douglas County that currently don’t have appropriations, according to Oregon Employment Department Senior Economic Analyst Gail Krumenauer.
Krumenauer said that is the most current number because agencies have until the end of the quarter to report employment data. The numbers may decrease slightly in the winter, she said.
The department doesn’t know how many federal contractors statewide aren’t receiving funds.
“It’s not a huge player in Oregon like it is in other states like Washington (D.C.), Virginia and Maryland,” Krumenauer said. “But we’re not able to capture those.”
Nearly half of the 9,583 unfunded federal employees statewide work for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, according to Krumenauer. She said that’s likely true for Douglas County too.
Employees deemed essential for an orderly shutdown continue to work without a paycheck. They expect to be reimbursed when the shutdown ends. But the exact number of federal employees still working without a paycheck in Douglas County is unknown.
Cheyne Rossbach of the Roseburg District BLM, along with other local federal employees, said they couldn’t comment about the shutdown. They are available for emergencies only and referred requests for comment to offices in Washington D.C., which didn’t answer calls from The News-Review.
The roll of the federal government is wider than its agencies, however. Native American tribes across the country have treaties with the U.S. that guarantee support for education and medical services.
Michael Rondeau, CEO of the Cow Creek Tribe, said contracts with federal agencies that fund many of the tribe’s medical services have been paused. Some of that funding pays for about 75 doctors and health workers at the tribe’s two medical clinics. One clinic is in Canyonville and another is in Roseburg.
Rondeau said the tribe’s funds can cover those costs for six to eight weeks, but after that they will have to look for other funding sources.
The tribe’s health insurance service has been unaffected by the shutdown, Rondeau said.
Additionally, ongoing work facilitating the transfer of land formerly held by the federal government has been stopped with the closure of the BLM and the Forest Service, Rondeau said. A congressional act last year restored 17,000 acres of land to tribal ownership.
“There are all kinds of details within the agreement that we are working on with BLM staff,” Rondeau said. “When they’re not available, work gets held off.”
Rondeau said it’s disappointing that ongoing work has been stopped, but he added the tribe is more insulated from the affects of the shutdown than many other less-established tribes nationwide. The U.S. Senate ratified a treaty with the Cow Creek Tribe in 1854. Tribes in the developmental stage of programs rely heavily on support for agencies such as the Department of Interior, he said.
“We’ve been through this before,” Rondeau said. “We’ve kind of known how to set up some safeguards to sustain us through the difficult times.”
Wayne Stinson, emergency manager with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said his office also has ongoing projects that have been held up by the shutdown. He needs to be in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to advance those projects.
“One is dealing with a tsunami evacuation over at the coast,” Stinson said. “Their technical experts aren’t available, so you can’t ask questions. So instead of maybe moving forward this year, if it goes past the deadlines, I’d have to wait till next year.”
Stinson said he works closely with the BLM and Forest Service for search-and-rescue operations in the county because they often have a more detailed knowledge of the landscape. Stinson said they haven’t had any emergencies that required constant collaboration during the shutdown, but if there were, he could only coordinate with law enforcement officers working through the shutdown at those agencies.
“We had a missing snowmobiler up at Diamond Lake on (Dec. 29), and one of their law enforcement people was up there assisting us,” Stinson said.
Federal support for programs that help vulnerable populations will be at risk if the shutdown continues.
Mike Fieldman, director of United Community Action Network in Roseburg, said some programs his organization runs that receive federal funding will be maintained for a few weeks because UCAN pays for them and gets reimbursed. Those services include food assistance for low-income families through programs such as the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
“Even if we missed a payment, we could probably float that for a while,” Fieldman said. “If it goes on for a long, long period, I may end up having to change my thinking on that.”
Fieldman said he was confident the government will reopen soon.
President Trump suggested Friday morning he’s prepared to continue the shutdown for months, or even years, if lawmakers don’t fund the border wall, according to national media outlets.