March 23, 2019

Government shutdown poses potential for pain

Cortland County organizations and municipalities are running as normal amid the federal government shutdown, but if it continues many could be left without needed funding.

The partial shutdown is on its third week with no agreement on a bill to reopen it as President Donald Trump is standing firm on his request for $5 billion for a wall along the United States-Mexico border.

Several government departments have been closed during that time, and 800,000 federal workers have either been laid off or are working without pay.

Among them are Transportation Security Administration workers at all airports.

Travel

TSA workers have not shown up for work at some airports. That has not been an issue at the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport, said airport Director Michael Hall. But that could change.

“The longer it goes on, the better the chance of people going to not want to come in,” Hall said.

In general, the shutdown has a minimal effect on the airport, he said. The Federal Aviation Administration office, which the airport does a lot of business with, is still open, Hall said, but some other federal offices the FAA coordinates with are closed. This is leading to potential slower services with the FAA.

However, the traveling public won’t see anything different with the airport right now, Hall said. But that’s today. He could face a different scenario by the end of the week, if TSA workers decide to no longer work without pay.

“I’d like to see it resolved,” Hall said. “It doesn’t get better with age.”

Students

Students looking to enter college for the first time in the spring semester may have to do so without their Free Application for Federal Student Aid form approved.

With the Internal Revenue Services mostly closed, verification of income on the FAFSA form is delayed, said LaSonya Griggs, associate dean for enrollment management at Tompkins Cortland Community College. The Selective Services System is fully closed, meaning other parts of the form can’t be verified, such as whether the student is a U.S. citizen or not.

If those parts of the form can’t be verified, the school can’t draw the money for the student, so neither the school or the student gets paid, Griggs said. That’s not creating damage to the school right now, though. If the shutdown continued for several months, it could.

Unverified students would usually be deregistered, but Griggs said TC3 is flagging students affected by the shutdown — about 15 percent of them — to make sure they can still register for classes.

The college will also defer tuition fees, she said.

“We know how much funding to anticipate for that student,” Griggs said.

She said she hopes students won’t even see any effect, although they may have to pay for their text books up front.

If the shutdown continues for months, Griggs said she hopes the federal Department of Education will give a direction on what to do. Students without federal financial aid would have less to spend on needed items and miscellaneous things around town.

“Everybody is waiting on everyone else,” Griggs said.

Federal aid helps pay for a lot of kids’ meals in school districts, but the Cortland City School District and Marathon School District have said they’ve seen no effect from the shutdown.

Workers

If the shutdown were to go from weeks to months, it could potentially hurt the Cortland Works Career Center. The staff and most programs of the Cortland County Employment and Development department in the center are federally funded and wouldn’t get essential grant funding, Employment and Training Director Diane Wheaton said.

“I don’t know how much we could do (if the grants aren’t received),” Wheaton said.

She declined to say how much federal funding the center gets.

Governments

For Cortland County government as a whole, Legislature Clerk Eric Mulvihill said he has not been apprised of any issues, yet. Most county agencies’ funding agreements are already in place.

If agreements are coming due while the government is shut down, there could be an issue then, Mulvihill said.

“It’s not impacting city government functions,” said Mayor Brian Tobin. That is for now.

If the shutdown persists, however, it could delay federal grants. “The worst thing is it might be a delay on programs,” Tobin said.

Infrastructure projects, like the Clinton Avenue Gateway project, could also be at risk with a prolonged shutdown, Tobin said.

Tanya Digennaro, treasurer for the village of Homer, said the village gets little federal funding and there’s no effect, yet. The only issue would be if the village wants to apply for federal funding during the shutdown.

Homer town Supervisor Fred Forbes and Cortlandville Supervisor Richard Tupper said the shutdown isn’t affecting those towns’ operations.

“Most of our stuff is done with the state,” Tupper said.

–– Staff Reporter Jacob DeRochie and Senior Reporter Catherine Wilde contributed to this article.

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