The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

October 2, 2013

Ashtabula County avoids big hurt from federal stalemate

Ashtabula County residents generally won’t feel a pinch from the federal government shutdown that enters its second full day today.

Many of the services people associate with government are unaffected by the stalemate because they aren’t necessarily funded by congressional appropriations. Mail service will continue and the local Social Security Administration office in Ashtabula Township will remain open — although the range of services will be trimmed.

But don’t plan on making a trip to the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor until the shutdown is over. All national parks and monuments, including Garfield’s home along Route 20, are closed for the interim.

Mail service will continue because the post office operates separately from federal government. Even so, some people contacted the Ashtabula post office on Station Avenue on Tuesday for some reassurance, officials said.

“We got a few calls,” said Superintendent Stephanie Jones.

Boaters on Lake Erie who find themselves in a jam can also rest assured the U.S. Coast Guard personnel in Ashtabula will come to their rescue. It’s business as usual for the shoreline institution, Petty Office 3rd Class Stephen Hall said Tuesday.

“Everything is operating normally,” he said.

The SSA field office on State Road in seeing some reduction in service due to personnel cuts, but its standard menu remains intact, according to the agency’s website. People can still seek benefits, request an appeal and change an address, along with other duties. However, field offices will not issue or replace SS or Medicare cards, verify benefits, respond to Freedom of Information requests or deal with third-party requests during the shutdown. For a complete list of what the SSA will and won’t do during the shutdown, visit ssa.gov.

Veterans Administration hospitals in Cleveland and Erie, Pa., are also unaffected, thanks in part to advance appropriations for fiscal year 2014. The Veterans Benefits Administration will also continue claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs well into October, according to a statement from the VA. However, if the shutdown continues for awhile, processing and payment would be suspended when funding is depleted.

The Department of Homeland Security, which also has a presence in Ashtabula County, is likewise to generally escape unscathed because of its mission, which states the agency “must be maintained under all circumstances to ensure the safety and security of the nation and citizens.” Some 86 percent of Homeland Security’s 231,000 employees are considered “essential” and off-limits, according to news reports.

The area’s federal representatives also responded to the shutdown. U.S. Rep. David Joyce, in a statement issued Monday, said he opposes the shutdown but did support the House’s continuing resolution that contains a one-year delay in President Obama’s health care program and a permanent repeal of the medical device tax “because it would keep the government running and ensure members of our military are paid in the event of a shutdown,” he said in a statement.

“But I’ll be frank: it’s time to stop playing games with a government shutdown,” Joyce continued. “Washington must stop the theatrics and work together for a real solution, which is the constitutional  process. I stand willing to work with anyone else who wants to put politics aside, keep the government running and find real solutions to the problems associated with the health care law.”

Visitors to the official website of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown learned his office was closed. While the shutdown continues, the office will be minimally staffed, meaning phone calls, emails and letters won’t be answered until the shutdown is over, according to the website.

“I will continue to work with my senate colleagues to resolve the funding issue,” Brown wrote on the site.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman also opposes the shutdown but at the same time will “resist attempts to reinstate Obamacare funding” into the budget bill, he said in a statement.

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