Officials say state can cover federal funds a bit longer
State agencies relying on federal funds for programs and services can cover costs for a little while longer, officials said Tuesday.
Those agencies face several problems if Congress can't find a way to re-open the government by the end of the month.
"This is crazy. We have got to fix this," said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, head of the West Virginia National Guard.
Last week, Republicans in the U.S. House refused to pass a measure to continue to fund the government unless it addressed concerns with the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare." The Senate and President Barack Obama said they would not approve such a measure, and on Oct. 1 the federal government shut down.
Initially more than 800,000 federal employees were told to go home, including 1,150 members of West Virginia National Guard. After work by national lawmakers, including members of the West Virginia delegation, the Department of Defense interpreted a last-minute spending measure so that most of its employees could return to work Monday.
That includes almost all of the West Virginia National Guard members sent home last week, Hoyer said Tuesday. He thanked the delegation, in particular Rep. Nick Rahall and Sen. Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., for their help.
There are still about 75 employees left in the lurch, and plenty of other services hurt by the sudden stop in federal funds, Hoyer said. There aren't enough funds to cover some services, training and maintenance already interrupted by the shutdown, degrading the guard's readiness, he said.
The Guard can't pick up a new helicopter it was supposed to receive Oct. 1, and as such can't train its pilots on it. It can't properly maintain its helicopters or other vehicles for much longer because it has a limited supply of replacement parts and can't afford to get the mechanics to the right locations.
Like many other federally funded entities in the state, the Guard is covering the costs of some of its projects with state money. That means shifting funds away from some projects to pay for services, people or programs for which it is typically reimbursed by the federal government, Hoyer said.
The Guard deferred work on four projects to help extend the time it can cover federally funded costs. That includes almost 400 employees paid on a reimbursement basis, he said.
Hoyer said it can cover costs typically reimbursed federally until noon on Oct. 16 - hours before experts believe the federal government will hit the "debt-ceiling," or the amount the federal government can legally borrow.
If there's a disaster tomorrow, the National Guard will find a way to respond. But Hoyer said it might take a little longer or limit resources typically available.
"Is that fair, to the men and women that go out and do that?" Hoyer said.
Other state agencies agreed they could continue to cover costs for some federally funded programs. If November approaches and the federal government is still shut down, many West Virginians will start to notice changes, officials said.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources administers an array of federal programs and services. It did some budgetary gymnastics to cover those affected by the shutdown through the end of the month, Secretary Karen Bowling said.
"To address the immediate impacts on DHHR programs, we have evaluated the timing of cash flows for all programs and plan to alter general revenue draws for various non-impacted programs to fully fund agency-wide personnel and services for those impacted programs," Bowling said in an emailed statement.
Every agency receives state funds at different times throughout the budget year to fund different programs, said Mike McKown, state budget director. The DHHR is moving money it's already received for programs not affected by the shutdown to cover costs for those that rely on federal funds.
McKown thinks the move won't hurt any programs unless the government shutdown runs into November.
The Department of Commerce can also front funds until the end of the month, said spokeswoman Chelsea Ruby. The department oversees 10 different state agencies - including the Division of Labor, Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, and Division of Natural Resources - many of which have programs directly funded or reimbursed by the federal government.
It's the same story for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said spokesman Lawrence Messina. The department has one employee paid through the same National Guard funding mechanism that dries up Oct. 16.
After the end of the month, the funding situation for grants needed by the department becomes "grim," Messina said.
National lawmakers and the president continue to pledge to find a solution. There's a chance for an agreement that addresses both the shutdown and the debt-ceiling situations, but one doesn't seem imminent, according to national experts and media reports.