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Furloughs, closures hit Indiana as government shutdown begins

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 6:11 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — The partial shutdown of the federal government landed hundreds of Indiana-based Air Force reservists, civilian workers and national park employees on unpaid furlough Tuesday, causing some business owners in the most affected areas to brace for the worst.

Lt. Col. Gary Lockhard, a spokesman for Grissom Air Reserve Base, said about 600 fulltime civilian employees and reservists who work at the base 60 miles north of Indianapolis were furloughed Tuesday after Congress failed to break a budget impasse. A bare-bones staff of about 25 air traffic controllers and 50 base security staff will remain on duty, he said.

The affected reservists were on the job for about four hours Tuesday as they shuttered their work spaces, he said.

"For most of the individuals coming in today, there was kind of a disappointment that it got to this point, but they knew what steps would be taken if the budget wasn't passed," Lockhard said.

The Indiana National Guard, meanwhile, furloughed about 1,000 federal technicians who are civilian workers, said guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cathy Van Bree. And during the budget impasse, the guard's 12,000 air and Army guard unit members won't report for duty and they won't be paid, she said.

Although those Guard members won't be paid, Gov. Mike Pence has directed that the state to continue paying for at least one week 244 guard staffers who are state employees and whose salaries are reimbursed by the federal government.

Pence's office said Indiana has enough money on hand to continue many of the largest joint federal-state programs like Medicaid and unemployment insurance through the shutdown.

Pence's spokeswoman, Christy Denault, said that through October, the state also will continue funding welfare benefits and a program that helps pregnant women, mothers and their children.

Depending on its length, the shutdown could have a significant economic impact on Grissom base area, including the cities of Peru and Kokomo, because people would have less disposable income to spend in shops and restaurants, said Jim Tidd, the head of the Miami County Economic Development Authority.

"Folks just can't buy like they would normally, so it will have a ripple effect. It will definitely have an impact on the economy," he said.

Wilbur Jess, who owns the Dutch Cafe, just across from the base's entrance, said about 15 percent of the eatery's customers are reservists who work at the base, but he's not worried the partial shutdown will hurt his business.

"I'm not really worried about it, and to tell you the truth I hadn't really thought about how it would affect us," Jess said.

The partial government shutdown shuttered the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and furloughed about 50 staffers, while about 30 staff who work in law enforcement and fire services will remain at work because they're work is essential, said park deputy superintendent Garry Traynham.

He said the budget impasse arrives at what would have been a busy week for the park staff.

"We're expecting temperatures in the 80s the next few days and the leaves are starting to turn a little bit so we typically have a fair number of visitors this time of year," he said.

The Hoosier National Forest on Tuesday began shuttering its campgrounds at the forest, which spans 200,000 acres from south of Lake Monroe to the Ohio River. About 45 staffers have been furloughed, but another 15 involved in firefighting and law enforcement will remain on duty.

Property spokeswoman Judi Perez said the shutdown comes at a time of year when the forest typically sees an increase in visitors eager to see its fall colors.