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October 01. 2013 8:42PM

NH still operating despite federal shutdown

CONCORD — More than 300 full-time New Hampshire Army National Guard military technicians received furlough notices Tuesday as the federal government shutdown hit the Granite State.

The U.S. Small Business Administration was closed, but the federal court was open. Mail was delivered as usual and there was no delay in Social Security checks.Gov. Maggie Hassan said New Hampshire government "will continue to operate, carrying out the normal functions of state government, although there may be some disruption in individual programs that are not yet funded."

Her spokesman, William Hinkle said the National Guard "will be the hardest hit."

Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn, the Guard's state public affairs officer, said that 332 of 450 full-time military technicians "are being furloughed," without pay. "The letters are going out today (Tuesday)."

The other 118 technicians "are exempted based on the kinds of missions they support," Heilshorn said. He said 100 of those exempted are Air National Guardsmen working at the Pease International Tradeport directly supporting the Guard's re-fueling mission, which, he said, is "a 24/7 operation in direct support of combat operations overseas.

"That is the most critical mission that we support on a daily basis," Heilshorn said.

He said the furloughs were prioritized based on the missions the workers support.

Heilshorn said the furloughs officially started on Tuesday, "and everyone who came to work will eventually be paid for (Tuesday), but their first day away from work is (Wednesday)."

"We're going down uncharted waters here," he said. "This is open ended. There will be hardships for sure."

Heilshorn said that many Guard units have also postponed their October drills, but in the event of a natural disaster or other event requiring the Guard's services, "We would still have enough personnel available to respond.

"Right now, worst case, scenario, if there is some sort of natural disaster that struck New Hampshire, we'd have more than 1,700 Guardsmen available to call up," he said.

Since they would be on "state active duty," said Heilshorn, "They would be mobilized with state funding, not federal funding."

Heilshorn said it is "a frustrating time" for the Guard.

"Soldiers and airmen are affected are frustrated, angry and on the whole it's an unsettling time," he said. "These are men and women who have volunteered to wear the uniform.

"Unlike other civilian federal employees, they go to war and some have been injured and some have seen direct combat if not supporting combat operations.

"It's frustrating to collectively give of yourself like that and then suffer through something that is out of your control," Heilshorn said.

He also said that for many technicians, it is their second furlough in less than a year.

"We went through sequestration throughout the summer and any time that your pay is cut, whether you're a government worker or a civilian worker, it can be a hardship," he said.

Stephen Heavener, director of the Capital Regional Development Council, which provides SBA loans statewide, said the shutdown "will have a major negative impact on commercial real estate and small business lending in New Hampshire."

Heavener said in a memo that the SBA has stopped processing SBA 7A loan guarantees and SBA 504 certified development company loans.

Heavener said that as of Aug. 31, 441 SBA loans totaling $89.5 million were approved during the first 11 months of the just-ended fiscal year. Of those, 83 loans totaling $32.5 million were SBA 504 loans.

"The Capital Regional Development Council is one of the five SBA certified development companies in New Hampshire, none of which can secure approval of an SBA 504 loan during the shutdown," Heavener said.

He said the council also manages several small business direct loan programs "to assist growing small businesses," but, "the program falls far short of the much-needed loan funds provided under SBA programs."

The U.S. District Court in Concord stated on its web site that the court and the adjacent federal building will remain open, but, "If no agreement is reached in the first ten (10) days of October to fund government activities, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance."

The court said all proceeding deadlines remain in effect and its Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) will remain in operation for the electronic filing of documents.

Employees of the White Mountain National Forest were being sent home Tuesday afternoon and will not return until the shutdown has ended.

Forest services spokesman Tiffany Benna did not respond to Union Leader calls seeking updates, but she told the Concord Monitor that forest officials were considering "suspending timber-sale contracts and other contracts, and we will be closing some of the recreation facilities where we cannot guarantee the health and safety of our visitors."

But Jayne O'Connor, president of the White Mountain Attractions Association, said visitors are unlikely to be affected.

"With no entrance gate or toll both, New Hampshire's White Mountains should appear mostly unaffected to visitors, O'Connor said. "The state parks are open, the private businesses and the scenic drives are open and even the National Forest campgrounds are open because they are operated by a vendor."

She said the federal welcome centers and ranger stations will be closed, "so visitors will need to get their maps and services from private or state visitor centers instead."

Hassan said she joined Granite Staters "in their frustration over Congress' inability to pass a clean continuing resolution to avert" a federal shutdown.

She said the shutdown "will damage our economy and cause unnecessary hardship to New Hampshire families. It is simply unconscionable that, at the expense of the needs of our people, some members of Congress have chosen to put their extreme ideology first and continue to fight battles they have already lost."

Hassan spokesman Hinkle said Medicaid and other programs remain funded, either through prior-year balances or because they are essential programs exempt from the shutdown.

"There may be some delay in reimbursements, but because funds have been previously allocated, these programs are not yet constrained," Hinkle said. "We will face challenges the longer the shutdown drags on and federal funds are exhausted, but the State of New Hampshire will continue to operate."

jdistaso@unionleader.com


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