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Forestry technician Mike Boldt puts up a notice at the entrance of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture offices in La Grande Tuesday morning informing visitors of the facilities’ closure due to the federal government shutdown. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Hundreds of thousands of employees were off the job and services were shuttered as the U.S. federal government ended its first day of a shutdown amid a stalemate in Congress over a short-term budget deal Tuesday.
Despite the loss of services nationwide, residents in Union and Wallowa counties are experiencing a minimal loss of services.
The Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinics in La Grande and Enterprise are continuing to provide their full complement of services.
“All of our clinics are open and running just like normal,” said Linda Wondra, public affairs officer for the Jonathan M. Wainwright VA Medical Center in Walla Walla, which has a network of seven community-based clinics, including the clinics in La Grande and Enterprise.
No VA clinic services are being cut because funding was appropriated for the medical centers before the start of the federal government’s fiscal year, which began Tuesday.
“The money was in place; there are no issues,” Wondra said.
The public affairs officer said that a concentrated effort has been made to make it known to veterans that VA medical services will not be impacted by the shutdown. Veterans have welcomed this news.
“Everybody is pleased,” Wondra said.
One federal office which has been affected locally is the Social Security office in La Grande.
Services at the field office and all those in the United States are being cut back during the shutdown. According to a press release, Social Security offices are still providing a number of services but not issuing new replacement Social Security cards, replacing Medicare cards or issuing proof of income letters during the shutdown.
Social Security payments are continuing to be made during the shutdown.
U.S. Forest Service offices are also closed due to the shutdown, meaning people cannot purchase permits to cut firewood on Wallowa-Whitman National Forest land. Firewood-cutting permits can still be purchased in Union and Wallowa counties from Island City Market & Deli, The Dollar Stretcher in Enterprise, the Sports Corral in Joseph, Hometown Hardware in Union and The Blonde Strawberry in Wallowa.
Soldiers with Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment are also being hit by the shutdown.
Between 20 and 25 technicians with the unit, who work in its maintenance shop, have been furloughed. Only two members of the La Grande-based unit are continuing to work at the maintenance shop.
“That is as bare minimum as can be,” said Capt. Stephen Bomar, director of public affairs for the Oregon Military Department.
The maintenance shop, located about five miles east of La Grande, houses the unit’s vehicles, including its tanks. A shutdown that continued for an extended period would impact the National Guard unit’s readiness if it is called to assist with a situation like a natural disaster.
“It if goes on longer, it would mean that we would be slower to respond,” Bomar said.
The 3-116th had a regular training exercise set for La Grande this weekend, but that has been postponed due to the shutdown.
“Pay for the weekend soldiers, right now we do not have funding for it,” said Maj. Joseph Lundell, a battalion operations officer for the 3-116th.