Locals feeling effects of shutdown

Published 10:40 am Friday, October 4, 2013

As the federal government shutdown extends to next week, Austin and Mower County residents are beginning to feel the effects. Several services are affected, from applying for farm loans to getting social security cards, and non-essential federal employees who work here are still out of work for the time being.

The Herald takes a look at how the federal government shutdown affects our community.


Though the federal government can’t process some paperwork, Mower County officials are still accepting applications for passports, according to County Recorder Jill Cordes.

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“We’re still processing them and sending them off,” she said.

Residents can still track passport applications, and federal workers will renew and issue passports while the government is shut down.

Social Security field offices, such as the one in Austin, will only have limited services. Social Security Administration employees can still do things like replace lost or missing payments, accept reports of death, help residents apply for benefits and more. Unfortunately, residents can’t get new or replacement Social Security cards, Medicare cards, or receive a proof of income letter until the government is funded.

Bad timing for outdoor projects

Information about federal farm and conservation programs, and potential grants attached to them, has halted as well.

Employees with the local Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Natural Resource Conservation Service — about 10 people in the Austin office — are currently out of work. The offices, which are in the same building as Mower Soil and Water Conservation District and Cedar River Watershed District, have been pretty quiet since Tuesday, according to SWCD district technician Cody Fox.

While the FSA and NRCS offices are vacant for the shutdown, Fox and others with soil and water have work to do, they said. But they’re affected, too. Some sediment and flow reduction projects that rely on federal funding have ground to a halt.

“We have some projects that could be going right now,” Fox said.

Depending on the length of the shutdown, conservation workers and contractors could still finish some of those stalled farmland and wetland projects this year. Because farmers didn’t plant some acres this year, conservation groups were able to finish some projects without waiting for harvest. For the few remaining local projects relying on federal dollars and vacant farmland, though, farmers and conservationists hope the shutdown ends quickly.

“Our window is not that big,” SWCD resource specialist Justin Hanson said about completing these farmland projects. “It’s between crops coming off and freeze up.”

A little off guard, but not locally

While 1,207 technicians out of 2,100 full-time Minnesota National Guard employees were furloughed on Tuesday, the three full-time soldiers at the Austin Armory are still working.

Lt. Col. Jon J. Lovald, director of human resources said while the Minnesota National Guard is required by law to follow this Department of Defense furlough policy, people of Minnesota should know soldiers and airmen remain ready to respond to state or federal emergencies.

Last year, the Minnesota National Guard announced plans to complete $3 million in upgrades at the Austin Armory, along with $2 million in upgrades at the armory in Chisholm. The Austin project was reportedly set to begin this fall and make the facility more environmentally friendly with a new entryway, windows, air conditioners, energy-efficient lighting and more. The Minnesota National Guard spokesperson for that project was unable to comment, as he is currently furloughed, as well.

However, Staff Sgt. David Gansen, of the Austin Armory, has not heard about any delays in the timeline, and the project could begin at the end of the month.

“Our plan is to vacate the facility and turn it over at the end of the month,” Gansen said.

School’s in session

The federal shutdown won’t affect Austin Public Schools in the short term.

The district will receive a little more than $1.9 million in federal funding this year in special education dollars, Title funding, food program money and other funds. Yet the district has enough reserve funds to cover any missed payments from the government, according to finance director Mark Stotts.

“Those reimbursements are put on hold,” he said. “It’s really not going to affect our operations.”

Stotts said it would take months before the district would feel the effects of a government shutdown, but Austin schools will still receive any money owed by federal officials once legislators pass a budget.

Business as usual for Hormel

It appears it’s business as usual at Hormel Foods, which is required to have United States Department of Agriculture food safety inspectors on site.

Although many employees have been furloughed from the USDA, and even its website is down, Hormel’s Austin plant is operating at normal production levels and has not been impacted by the shutdown, according to a statement from Hormel.

The USDA’s food safety inspectors are considered essential employees and are continuing to work at Hormel, the statement says.