Pa. officials weigh federal shutdown's impact on services


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HARRISBURG -- It's the federal government that has partially shut down, but the presence of money from Washington throughout the state's budgets has Pennsylvania officials working to determine when programs here will start to feel the pinch.

Pennsylvania's general appropriations for the current fiscal year include $20.4 billion in federal funds along with $27.8 billion in state funds, according to the administration. Not all federal funding is the same. Much of Pennsylvania's share is in spending that is not directly stopped by the failure of Congress to pass an appropriations bill.

But some funding is subject to the federal impasse. Gov. Tom Corbett has directed agencies here to comb through their budgets and determine the funding stream -- whether paid in advance or reimbursed, with or without an option of using leftover cash -- for all federal money.

"They are literally doing that, department by department, program by program, line by line, right now," Jay Pagni, the governor's press secretary, said last week.

The administration has maintained that a short-term shutdown will not stop any critical state-administered services, though it has not put a date on when exactly that would change. For now, agencies are developing contingency plans in case the standoff continues.

"With our current assessment of the situation we are confident that Pennsylvania can maintain essential programs and services for the next couple of weeks," Mr. Pagni said Friday.

Officials in other states are talking in similar terms about how long their agencies can wait before the shutdown begins to have serious consequences, said Marcia Howard, executive director of Federal Funds Information for States, a service founded by the National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures.

"What I hear when I talk to states is they sort of feel like a week or two is OK," she said. "When they talk about it, it's like if this goes beyond October, we don't know what we're going to do."

In Pennsylvania, officials are scrutinizing funding for schools, health programs and human services.

The Department of Public Welfare is examining the federal money that flows to food stamps, cash welfare payments and heating assistance, as well as to social services focused on mental health, intellectual disabilities, homelessness, domestic violence and rape, according to spokeswoman Carey Miller. Medicaid will not be affected, she said.

"Should the federal government shutdown last beyond a few weeks there could be impacts on these programs, and we're certainly going to have to address that with plans moving forward," she said.

The state Department of Health expects offices of the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program can operate normally for a few weeks, said spokeswoman Aimee Tysarczyk. State officials are working with their federal counterparts to determine what would happen after that.

"We can't put a specific date around when any adjustments will have to be made, but if the federal government shutdown continues for an extended period of time, we're going to have to make some tough choices," Ms. Tysarczyk said in an email. "We'll do all we can for as long as we can."

Schools will see no immediate impact to programs with federal funding, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education. Programs such as special education and Title I, which serves schools with a certain proportion of low-income students, receive funding in advance, rather than requiring states to file for reimbursement.

The agency is making plans to deal with any long-term lack of funding, he said.

One area where the budget impasse has had an immediate effect is the Pennsylvania National Guard, where more than 1,000 military technicians were furloughed last week. Mr. Corbett has written to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking that the government put the technicians, who wear military uniforms, back to work.

The Pennsylvania adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, told Guard members and federal civilian employees in writing Thursday that a law signed the day before the shutdown was meant to ensure all military branches, including reserves, would continue to work and be paid during the shutdown. The Department of Justice stopped this from applying to the Guard's military technicians, he said.

"Their restrictive interpretation of the law is clearly not what Congress intended," Mr. Craig said. "All of us are working hard to correct this at once."

state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141. First Published October 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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