WASHINGTON – About 275 employees at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station will be temporarily out of work as of today.
It’s very likely that most of the 800 workers at the Buffalo office of the Internal Revenue Service will be out of work, too, as will about half of the 280 local employees of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Meanwhile, the border agents that usher you into Canada and countless other federal personnel deemed essential will be working, but without pay. And a key nutrition program that serves 20,000 people locally will begin to run out of money.
This, in part, is what a federal government shutdown will look like in metro Buffalo.
With Congress – including lawmakers from Western New York – still divided along party lines, some details started to come clear Monday as to just what a government shutdown will look like.
On the individual level, it will be ugly.
“There are people who are getting ready to deploy, trying to navigate this when they are getting ready to go,” said Maj. Andrea Pitruzzella, a spokeswoman for the air base who will be one of those furloughed there. “There are couples where both people work here. … It’s frustrating, because there’s really nothing we can do.”
It’s just as frustrating for federal workers who will be on duty without pay.
“My main concern is paying my mortgage, bills and putting food on the table for my family,” said a Border Patrol agent from the Buffalo area, who asked not to be identified by name. “In the end, it’s the hardworking people who make a lot less money than those responsible for this that will suffer.”
For federal workers, the bottom line on the shutdown is: Are you essential or not?
Nonessential employees are those who handle tasks that the government thinks it can live without, such as those who do back-office tasks including public relations at the air base.
About 90.7 percent of IRS employees have been deemed nonessential, the Treasury Department said, meaning that a large number of the agency’s Buffalo workers are likely to be affected even though the agency has not released an exact number. And the office of Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said that roughly half of the local Army Corps employees will be working.
If the shutdown is prolonged, the economic impact will be huge, said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s as if one of the biggest companies in the area just shut down.”
Huge numbers of other federal employees – environmental inspectors, people who process government-backed mortgages and small-business loans, people who work at national parks and museums – will be furloughed, as well.
For other programs, calculating the impact of a shutdown will be trickier. Federal courts, for example, have enough funding to keep operating for about two weeks, but it’s unknown what would happen after that. The same is true for unemployment benefits: Much depends on how much federal funding each state has in reserve.
But one of the most immediately threatened programs appears to be the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program for young mothers and their offspring. The program serves about 20,000 in Erie and Niagara counties and is operating today despite the shutdown, according to Catholic Charities of Buffalo, which manages the program locally.
The Department of Agriculture, which funds the program, said in a memo that it expects funding for it to run out in about a week.
“These are people who are in real need, and this is anti-American,” said Higgins, who also complained about the shutdown’s ending of federally funded clinical trials for cancer patients. “This is not our tradition. We don’t walk away from people in need.”
Higgins joined Schumer and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in opposing Republican efforts to tie the government funding bill to a delay in the requirement that Americans buy health insurance, which kicks in Jan. 1 under the Affordable Care Act. The deadlock over that GOP “Obamacare” delay is what has stalled the budget bill that Congress would have to have passed by today to continue most government funding into the new fiscal year.
“The Republicans don’t want to delay ‘Obamacare’; they want to destroy ‘Obamacare,’ ” said Higgins, warning that the shutdown would be “a tea party tax on the American economy.”
But local Republican lawmakers held firm, blaming President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for not negotiating on GOP demands that the health care law be changed.
House Republicans also demanded an end to federal health insurance subsidies for lawmakers and their staffs.
“Ending the special treatment for Congress is a basic minimum to ask for,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, acknowledged he is concerned about the local impact of a shutdown – but insisted that Republicans were doing the right thing in tying the “Obamacare” delay to the government funding bill.
“Today,” Collins said, “our conference is united in looking out for what’s best for America, which is delaying, stopping ‘Obamacare’ and some of more egregious aspects of it.”