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Maine Braces as Federal Government Shutdown Looms
04/06/2011   Reported By: Josie Huang

In about two days, the federal government will run out of money--the result of a budget standoff between Democrats and Republicans. If no fix is made by Friday, Washington D.C. will pretty much shut down. But the ramifications will be felt outside of the beltway. In Maine, the most immediate and visible result of the budget battle will be the closure of Acadia National Park, along with all national parks and museums.

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Maine Braces as Federal Government Shutdown Looms
Originally Aired: 4/6/2011 5:30 PM
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Passport processing would halt, as would approvals for most new small business loans. Other effects of a federal shutdown won't be that noticeable in Maine, say state and federal officials--that is, if the budget impasse doesn't go too long.

"Fourteen days or less would be short, and anything longer than that, you start getting into more issues, I think," says Dan Demeritt, spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage. He says the administration has been reaching out to federal agencies and has determined that the state has enough funds to continue doing things like distributing federal unemployment to Mainers.

"We cut the unemployment checks here in the state, and the funds are available, and we should be fine for the near term," he says. "And if we get to the point where we have to start drawing down again, and the federal government hasn't approved those, then that gets to be an issue."

Dan Simpson of the Maine Housing Authority says, fortunately, the state has already received the federal funds it needs to provide rental assistance to 12,000 low-income households for the month of April. "You know, As long as they're back up and running and funding's available for May, we'll be OK," he says.

Federal courts will stay open through a shutdown as mandated by the Constitution. Christa Berry is clerk of the U.S. District Court in Portland. "The judiciary has enough money, probably, to keep its doors open with a full staff for about 10 business days, and hopefully during that time Congress will come to some agreement," Berry says.

If not, Berry says, it will be up to the Chief Judge John Woodcock to decide which staff to furlough and how to pare down operations. The priority would be on resolving cases, says Berry, so hearings, jury trials and arraignments would continue.

A stop would be put to training programs and community outreach, for example. "Visiting schools, or having schools come to us, those kinds of things, we would not be pursuing," she says. "We wouldn't be buying equipment that's not absolutely essential. We would not be compiling statistics. We would not be traveling unless it had to do with a management of a case."

For Maine's research centers, there may be a delay in getting federal grant money. Eighty percent of the research at the University of Maine, for example, is funded by the federal government. But Michael Hastings of the University of Maine says that researchers are not worried about losing funds because they have signed agreements with the federal agencies that granted them the money.

"We expect all the research that we do here in Orono to continue unabated during a shutdown," Hastings says. "If any of our project directors here on campus receive specific instructions from their sponsor agencies to the contrary, we'd respect those."

The last time there was a federal government shutdown because of a budget battle was in late 1995 and early 1996. Eric Baxter, spokesman for Hewin Travel in Portland, remembers the headaches caused for travelers because the government stopped processing passports.

"Even if you're shut down for two days, you have applications coming in and not getting processed, and it would back up the process," he says.

Baxter says that people who are traveling internationally in the next few weeks, but need to renew or replace a passport, will be in a bind. "People would need to make the appointment in Boston, which is what you have to do, and they give you a small window to go in and apply get a new passport issued. Obviously those people will be in bad trouble," he says.

Christa Berry, the clerk of the court in Maine, was hopeful that all these problems from a federal shutdown would be averted.

It's not clear how many Mainers will be among the 800,000 or so federal employees who would be furloughed during a government shutdown. The U.S. Attorney's Office will be getting more direction from Washington D.C. this evening, according to U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty.

For more information on the government shutdown, log onto mpbn.net for a link to a fact page set up by Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. Both she and Sen. Susan Collins have issued statements urging against a shutdown.


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