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Shumlin: Prolonged Shutdown Will Harm Thousands In Vermont

Gov. Peter Shumlin spoke about the implications of a lingering government shutdown on Vermonters as Maj. Gen. Steve Cray looked on.
Taylor Dobbs

Governor Peter Shumlin and a group of top administration officials say Vermont has the funds to keep vital assistance programs running through the month, but the federal shutdown could mean big trouble if it lasts another week.

Jeb Spaulding, Secretary of Administration, said the state scrambled to get payment up front from as many federal agencies as possible as the shutdown drew near.

In combination with the state’s already solid financial standing, that cash grab “put us in a situation where, at the state level, we can cover most of the temporary loss of federal funds,” Spaulding said.

Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP (food stamp) benefits are all still working, Spaulding said, making the shutdown’s negative effects difficult to see for some. But that doesn’t mean the shutdown won’t hurt Vermonters, he said.

"There's still many, many Vermonters that are being impacted, and the longer this drags on, the greater the likelihood that many more Vermonters, thousands of Vermonters, will be seriously impacted,” Spaulding said.

Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan said unemployment claims doubled last week, with 438 new claims filed by federal employees in Vermont. More claims came later in the week from employees at businesses that work directly with the federal government.

While the number of federal employees currently on unpaid leave in Vermont is “in the hundreds,” state officials said that since those workers don’t work for the state, they have no way of tracking them.

Noonan encouraged any furloughed workers to contact the Department of Labor for assistance.

Shumlin’s frustration with the shutdown was clear; the governor called the Congressional stalemate “foolishness” more than once at the press event. He praised Vermont’s congressional delegation for “doing the right thing,” and said Vermonters who want to do something to end the shutdown are out of luck.

"Aside from expressing their outrage to the folks in Congress who are creating this crisis,” Shumlin said, “we're kind of held hostage to a Congress that seems to put political ideology and political fights over the interests of the country."

Thousands of Vermonters stand to lose some sort of federal assistance if the shutdown continues. Among them: Roughly 14,000 benefiting from federal rent assistance, 40 percent of students enrolled in Head Start programs across the state, 17,000 elderly and disabled Vermonters receiving federal SNAP benefits, and foster families who receive assistance.

As autumn draws to a close, the federal shutdown could also have dire implications for low-income Vermonters receiving federal assistance to heat their homes. If Congress doesn’t reach an agreement soon, Spaulding said, heating assistance could be jeopardized.

The 450 furloughed National Guard employees that had to take last week off are almost completely back on the job, said Vermont’s Adjutant General Steve Cray. All but a few returned to work this week, after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagelannounced Saturday that most furloughed Defense Department civilians under a new interpretation of federal law.

The problem now is that the Vermont National Guard and the Vermont Air National Guard can’t incur any new expenses. That means no fuel, no ammunition, and no mechanical parts they need for day-to-day operations. While employees are no longer without a paycheck, the Guard is unable to do much training while the shutdown is in effect. For Cray, that means his troops won’t be ready if they are needed.

“That readiness level will continue to drop every day that we are not back at work and able to train,” he said.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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