Federal shutdown impact on Louisiana

Shutdown plan Show caption
Shutdown plan

State Agriculture Department workers spent Monday collecting files from a New Orleans City Park research station they share with the federal Department of Agriculture.

“USDA owns the building and they told us they were locking it for the duration,” Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said. Those state employees will report to work in Baton Rouge and Hammond on Tuesday.

With a partial government shutdown going into effect Tuesday, national parks will close, new federal loans will cease and many of Louisiana’s more than 20,000 federal employees will be told to stay home without pay.

Airports and federal courts should operate as usual, at least for the time being. Food stamps, veterans benefits, Social Security and Medicare will still be delivered.

The partial shutdown occurred because House Republicans insisted on including Obamacare delays into any needed budget stopgap.

The president and Senate Democrats held the line on their refusal to negotiate Affordable Care Act changes under the threat of a shutdown.

Louisiana has more than 4,600 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employees, more than 2,000 in the Department of Homeland Security, about 2,500 in the Department of Agriculture and more than 1,300 in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others.

Thousands of those employees will be declared nonessential and become furloughed, according to the White House Office of Personnel Management.

Many essential employees will have their paychecks delayed.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the shutdown will have a much broader effect than on federal employees alone.

“It’s going to have a horrific impact all over the country. It hurts the economy,” Landrieu said.

“I mean Marriott Corporation told me — they have a lot of hotels in Louisiana — that the federal government is their largest customer.

“So it hurts our tourism industry; it hurts our hotel industry; it hurts our businesses and it’s completely unnecessary.”

Not just the tourism industry is affected.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture informed Genex Cooperative Inc. on Monday afternoon that no international health certificates would be processed starting Tuesday.

The company collects semen from bulls and ships it overseas. Its business grinds to a halt without the certificates.

“We have a rancher in Argentina who is waiting for 5,000 doses. It’s a very big deal for him,” said James Chenevert, Genex Cooperative’s manager in Baton Rouge and Fort Payne, Ala.

A shipment is worth $300,000 to $400,000.

The National Park Service released contingency plans instructing rangers to ask visitors to leave national parks immediately but allow campers an additional day to pack up.

Reading from a prepared statement, a ranger at the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, which includes a visitor’s center in the French Quarter and the Battle of New Orleans battlefield in Chalmette, said Monday that no decisions have been made about those facilities.

Air traffic controllers, who oversee landings and takeoffs, and Transportation Security Administration officers, who do the screening, are federal employees.

The TSA and Federal Aviation Administration will not be sending employees home, so air flight should continue as normal.

“To the best of my knowledge we will be operating normally. I’m not aware of any FAA or TSA implications,” said Greg Roberts, director of aviation at Lafayette Regional Airport.

“I’ve been staying abreast of the situation. One would hope we would be receiving direct communications here. Right now, everything is expected to operate normally.”

The Veterans Administration operates facilities in Alexandria, Lafayette, Jennings, Natchitoches, Lake Charles and Fort Polk.

“We’re funded through Dec. 30, 2014, so nothing changes for us,” said Tammie Arnold, public affairs officer with the Veterans Health Administration in Alexandria. “None of our clinics will close and all of our hospitals will continue to operate.”

Benefits payments administered by the Veterans Benefits Administration, and claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October, she said.

Federal courts will remain open until at least Oct. 15, if a government shutdown occurs Tuesday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson said the federal courts will operate as usual for at least 10 business days because the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts had set aside enough money.

“However, after Oct. 15, we will have to make an assessment and proceed accordingly,” Jackson said.

Federal courts would continue to handle most criminal matters, but civil and bankruptcy litigation probably would be put on hold until Congress approves a spending plan, he said.

Criminal prosecutions have speedy trial, due process and other constitutionally mandated deadlines, said Rebecca L. Hudsmith, who oversees federal public defenders in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans.

“I’m trying to get a handle on it myself, but for the time being, we’re telling everyone in all our offices that we’re open,” said Hudsmith, whose office represents many of the people charged with federal crimes.

As part of essential services though, the FBI field office in New Orleans will remain open, although many FBI employees nationally will be furloughed.

“Residents across the state of Louisiana can rest assured that the work of the FBI will continue despite a possible government shutdown,” the FBI said in a memo on Monday.