Since the United States government ceased normal operations on Tuesday, the effects of the situation are being felt in all corners of the country, including Texas County.
On Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Mark Twain National Forest district ranger station had its doors closed, and many vehicles in the district’s fleet were parked in a row against a fence on the station’s U.S. 63 property. A handful of Forest Service workers remained on duty in case of fire.
The USDA Service Center on U.S. 63 south of Houston was also closed and nobody was inside. The facility houses several agencies, including Farm Service, Rural Development, Top of the Ozarks Resource Conservation and Development Inc., and the Texas County Soil and Water Conservation District. A sign on a water district door said “sorry for any inconvenience,” and clicking on the facility’s web address brought up a site with the URL “USDA.gov/fundinglapse.htm” with a message that the site wasn’t available and a link to a letter from President Barack Obama to all U.S. government employees.
Offices at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (run by the Department of Interior National Park Service) were also closed and the park’s website was inoperable. A message was posted on the site that read, “because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating. For more information, go to www.doi.gov.”
Missouri Department of Conservation officials at the regional office in West Plains and the main office in Jefferson City have indicated that the state agency is unaffected by the federal shutdown.
Nutritional program affected: The University of Missouri Extension has been advised by the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) to suspend until further notice certain federally funded nutrition education programs, which will affect more than 100 MU Extension faculty and staff as well as the clients they serve (including 260,000 K-12 students and 78,000 adults at more than 1,000 schools, libraries and other sites across the state).
Extension nutrition education programs annually receive $10.4 million in federal funding from the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for extension teaching and training. DSS administers the funding.
MU Extension Human Environmental Sciences Program Director Jo Britt-Rankin said affected employees were furloughed Thursday night, but that to minimize long-term disruption to these programs, Extension would fund their positions through Oct. 21. However, if permanent funding is not restored by then, layoffs will be initiated because of insufficient internal funding.
Britt-Rankin said that affected employees would remain in their offices to answer question until Oct. 21, but no services in the field would be provided. There is one affected employee in Texas County, where 4,800 people were served last year through MU Extension nutrition programs.
“If at all possible, we do not want to lose these employees and the investment we have made in them,” said Extension Director and MU vice provost Michael Ouart. “They have built valuable relationships in communities all across Missouri. Losing them would have long-lasting effects on the health and eating habits of future generations of Missouri’s children.”
Britt-Rankin said the temporary internal funding will keep the employees on the payroll but cannot cover the costs of travel, supplies and other expenses needed to maintain programming. During this time, faculty and staff involved in the affected family nutrition programs will communicate cancellations to schools and constituents and prepare for the resumption of normal operations should funding be restored.
Unemployment claims: The Missouri Division of Employment Security is extending the hours of operation for its regional claim centers to accommodate an increased workload in unemployment claims associated the federal shutdown of government.
Beginning Monday, the offices will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. They also will be open on Columbus Day on Monday, Oct. 14.
Due to the increased workload, initial claimants may experience a longer wait time or phones may be busy. “Claims specialists are working hard to ensure that initial unemployment claims are filed timely and correctly,” the agency said in a press release on Friday afternoon.
In most instances, individuals can file for unemployment insurance online at http://labor.mo.gov/DES/Claims/. However, federal employees must call 800-320-2519 to file their initial claim.