By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
---- — They had until 11:30 a.m. to pack up and clear out at Grissom Air Reserve Base.
About 600 employees, some Air Force reservists, some civilians, were furloughed Tuesday as the federal government shut down.
Lt. Col. Gary Lockard, the base’s public affairs officer, said air traffic at the base would be unaffected by the shutdown, as air traffic controllers and other personnel deemed “essential” will remain at work.
The base’s active duty military contingent, which according to Lockard is a small minority of the base’s uniformed personnel, will remain at work.
“This has an impact on the local community,” Lockard said. “It’s all folks who live in the local area and it’s a big chunk to take out of the local economy.”
It’s unclear how much air traffic will remain at the base during the shutdown, as many of the reservists affected are part of the crews flying KC-135 tanker planes with the 434th Air Refueling Wing stationed at the base.
Many of those reservists are full-time, Lockard said, performing duties such as pilot and maintenance technician.
Part of the difficulty of a government shutdown is getting information, as many of the employees affected normally handle information requests.
At Grissom, Lockard said, everyone was told to be done for the day and off the base by 11:30 a.m. The public affairs office was included in that group, he added.
In Kokomo, the Social Security Administration office was open, albeit on a limited basis. Office administrators pointed media requests to the socialsecurity.gov website, where a list could be found of services which will and won’t be available during the shutdown.
Ironically, the administrators of many government websites Tuesday — including Grissom’s — announced they wouldn’t be updated during the shutdown.
Anyone needing a new or a replacement Social Security card or a replacement Medicare card during the shutdown will be out of luck, but the office will still process new applications for benefits, according to the website.
The food stamps program, which has a different funding source than the one which expired Sept. 30, will remain open, as apparently will the federal Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program. The Kokomo WIC office was open.
According to the Washington Post, which cited the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official contingency plan, WIC funding is supposed to cease during the shutdown.
But WIC offices could run off reserve funds for some time, and many states are expected to keep the offices open indefinitely, according to the Post.
The same scenario applies to the Kokomo Housing Authority, which receives a monthly allotment from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We’re going to keep going; we’re not going to go on furlough,” KHA Director Debra Cook said Tuesday. She said other housing authorities are issuing furloughs, but the KHA will run on reserves as long as possible.
In Washington, Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for the shutdown. The Republican majority House and Democrat majority Senate were unable to agree on a funding bill.
“We have acted repeatedly to avoid a government shutdown and they have rejected our legislation along with our offer for negotiations. The intransigence of President Obama and Sen. [Harry] Reid has led to a government shutdown that Americans oppose just as they oppose ObamaCare,” U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., said.
President Barack Obama blamed the GOP.
“They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job,” Obama said.