Partial Government Shutdown Affecting Agencies, Programs, Residents in Columbia Gorge

Approximately 25-30 U.S. Forest Service employees and contractors based out of the Trout Lake Ranger District officials are currently on furlough, including the interim district ranger. A closure sign is posted on the office main door. (Submitted photo)

The Federal government has been partially shut down for just over a month, making it the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

So how has the government shut down impacted the Gorge? The Enterprise initially reached out to contacts in Federal government agencies such as the United States Forest Service (USFS) and National Fish Hatchery (NFH). What it got were the following auto-reply email responses.

“Hello. I am not in the office at this time. I am on furlough without access to email due to the lapse in federal government funding. I will return your message as soon as possible once funding has been restored.”- Erin Black, natural resource planner and interim district ranger for Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Trout Lake.

A similar message can be found on the USFS website, along with a seven-page detailed document on the full impact of the shutdown on USFS.

“The USFS is assessing and prioritizing activities we are able to maintain during the lapse in funding based on three critical categories of work identified in the agency shutdown plan. The plan reflects the difficult choices made on the most critical work needed to conduct an orderly shutdown and to protect health, safety, and assets during a lapse in funding. The agency is evaluating and proceeding with some work using non-appropriated funds to continue critical business functions and public services. These choices continue to evolve as the lapse in funding status persists and more critical needs emerge,” states an overview of the document.

On a local level, 25-30 Forest Service employees and contractors work out of the now-closed Mt. Adams Ranger District, categorizing them as furloughed workers. On the Oregon side, Mt. Hood National Forest is open due to monetary support from a public-private partnership. However, trailheads, trails, and forest websites (Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area included) will not be maintained during the shutdown.

The Forest Service has also set up a website to help its furloughed employees navigate the shutdown.

“Every shutdown is a little different — governed by specifics of the time of year, what seasonal activities are underway, and what type of employees are considered essential. We take these things into account in our shutdown contingency plan and adjust accordingly,” said a statement on the Forest Service’s website. “We are currently in the third week of the shutdown. If the shutdown continues after this week, we are in uncharted territory as a government shutdown has never gone this long.”

When trying to get in touch with its contact at the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery, The Enterprise received this, “Due to the lapse in funding of the federal government budget, I am out of the office. I am not authorized to work during this time but will respond to your email when I return to the office.”- Cheri Anderson, information and education specialist at Columbia River Gorge National Fish Hatchery Complex.

The local fish hatcheries and the complex are still open, due to being fully funded in the fall. However, administrative and educational employees, like Anderson, have been furloughed.

The shutting down of the federal government has had an impact on the local government as well.

“The City is affected by the government shutdown. We are applying for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development loan to replace the water line on Jewett which needs to be done this year. We cannot complete the online application portion because the site is not available, due to the government shutdown,” said White Salmon Clerk/Treasurer Jan Brending.

The shutdown also impacts those who benefit from services provided by the government, such as food assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

Washington and Oregon SNAP participants received notification from the SNAP official website as to what will happen regarding the shutdown and the distribution of monthly benefits.

“SNAP participants should be aware that after Jan. 20, no additional benefits will be issued in February. Just like normal, these SNAP benefits do not expire and will remain on the card until a household uses them. New applicants can still apply for SNAP and receive benefits, these are being processed normally and will continue to be accepted in February,” according to the SNAP official website.

As of now, the timing of March SNAP benefits is unknown due to the shutdown, with a looming possibility of limited funding for the program. The government shutdown is not affecting the way people receive other nutrition assistance like school meals, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) or food pantries, but potentially could if it continues.

“This whole situation is completely scary and leaves people wondering what they are going to do? How we are going to make it through? It feels almost like going through a “great depression” from stories I’ve been told, but actually living it today,” said Callie Thysell, a 25-year-old single mother of two small children.

Thysell has been taking CNA training at an Oregon Veterans home since Jan. 7 and didn’t receive a letter that she needed to renew her SNAP and WIC benefits until just before the due date and missed the time to renew due to her classes.

“I only have $125 in SNAP for mainly my children, for however long this shutdown continues. I could care less about eating because my children come first,” said Thysell.

In an effort to help not only furloughed workers, but others impacted by the shutdown charitable organizations and private businesses are offering discounts, deals, free meals, and extensions on bills.

“In order to help furloughed workers, many companies are extending offers big and small to help furloughed workers while the government leaves them hanging. Some major corporations, for example, are offering extended time for federal workers to pay their bills. Cellphone companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, for example, have all said they will waive late fees for workers impacted by the shutdown and will work with them on payment plans. Banks like Chase, Citi, American Express, and Capital One are giving similar offers too,” according to a Jan. 17 Vox article.

On the local level Boda’s Kitchen, Solstice Woodfire Café, and Double Mountain Brewing in Hood River are all offering 15 percent off to all federal workers for the duration of the shutdown. Additionally, Double Mountain is offering pay, free beer, and food to five furloughed workers that come and help them bottle beer on Jan. 24.

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