Federal shutdown means consequences for Lassen County

With the partial shutdown of the federal government affecting approximately 800,000 federal workers nationwide, many places locally, such as Lassen Volcanic National Park are directly affected.

In the event of a government shutdown due to a lapse in appropriations, most Federal employees are required to stop work because no funds would be available to pay staff and the government is prohibited from accepting voluntary services.

Federal workers deemed “essential” or “excepted” are required to work without pay. Others are furloughed, or placed on temporary leave.

The federal government’s shutdown affects approximately 800,000 workers in nine departments, as well as several federal agencies. This includes the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury. Each department has referred questions to their corresponding contingency plans for a possible lapse in appropriations.

Coming out of the California’s Governor’s office Thursday Jan. 10, and detailed on the Employment Development Department of California’s website, federal government employees in California impacted by the shutdown may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits.

If employees have lost work through no fault of their own and meet other eligibility requirements they may be eligible. All claims have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Employees may apply on or after the first day they are furloughed and not working. If an employee is still working but not collecting pay, eligibility for benefits could be impacted. Any employee affected by the government shutdown is encouraged to apply for benefits and the Employment Development Department will assess each case individually.

While Lassen Park’s entrances will remain open, access may change without notice and there are no national park service-provided services available until the federal government’s reopening. Those services may include restrooms, trash collection, facilities or road maintenance. However there may be minimal snow clearing completed by Cal Trans.

The park’s website states that during the shutdown the website (and its social media platforms) will not be updated and may not reflect current conditions.

The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center is closed during the shutdown, meaning the ranger-led snowshoe walks will not be offered until reopening.

The park’s highway, Highway 89 from the park’s south boundary to the junction of state route 44, is closed due to snow at the time of reporting.

The park’s website also refers interested parties to see the Department of the Interior’s website at doi.gov/shutdown for more information.

According to the Sierra Army Depot’s public affairs officer Julia Simpkins, SIAD is funded through the Department of Defense through 2019, and is not affected by the shutdown.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Office of Public Affairs, during the shutdown, only employees who perform excepted functions the federal prison in Herlong (i.e., whose duties involve the safety of human life or the protection of property) or whose salaries are paid from other than the 2019 fiscal years annual appropriations are permitted to work.

Excepted employees will be paid for work performed after Congress passes and the President signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution. Of the total number of BOP staff on board (36,361), 35,287 or approximately 97 percent are considered excepted.

The office also noted that at BOP institutions, ordinary operations are continuing during the lapse, including mental health services and counseling, inmate programming, medical treatment, releases, ect.

Attempts to reach local offices for the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife and Bureau of Reclamation were reached with either full inboxes or messages detailing their status as closed until federal funding is restored.

Even with no local center for the Federal Food and Drug Administration, with the shutdown, also comes a ceasing of most food safety inspections. FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told media on Jan. 9 that he is trying to pinpoint the most essential inspections, while making sure that employees do not suffer too much.

This means the FDA inspectors are not looking for circumstances such as listeria in ice cream or E. coli in romaine lettuce. Inspections of domestic food production facilities have virtually stopped which means threats to the public are going undetected.

However, foreign food inspectors are also continuing because they’re considered important.

Unlike the food inspections, which are appropriated by congress, user fees pay some of FDA’s work, such as drug approvals, inspections of drug-producing facilities, and regulating tobacco products. They’re not greatly affected by the shutdown.

Until the reopening of the federal government, just how many employees are being furloughed or on temporary leave in Lassen County is a guess at best.