“We are out of the office on furlough and unable to take your call,” said the voice on the recorded message of the media-relations office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Tuesday (Oct. 1).
While the agency’s emergency line is still up and running, certain functions of the organization, whose tagline is “CDC 24/7: Saving Lives. Protecting People,” have come to a grinding halt thanks to a government shutdown caused by the inability of Congress to authorize funding for government operations and services.
“Due to the lapse in government funding, only web sites supporting excepted functions will be updated unless otherwise funded. As a result, the information on this website may not be up to date, the transactions submitted via the website may not be processed, and the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted,” read the CDC website.
Also on the chopping block for the agency is the seasonal flu vaccination program, which distributed 73 million doses from Sept. 13 to Sept. 20 alone, according to the site. ABC News reported that “as a result of the shutdown, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has furloughed 9,000 employees, rendering it unable to track multi-state disease outbreaks, said CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds. These currently include the disease stemming from the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which killed a 4-year-old in Louisiana a few weeks ago, and the stomach bug cyclospora, which has sickened 643 people in 25 states since June.”
This isn’t the first time that the United States government has stopped running. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton all experienced shutdowns in their administrations. These standoffs between each president and their respective Congresses were over various funding disputes. The current shutdown is widely seen as an attempt by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to delay the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama 2010.
During a shutdown, the government cannot fund all of its operations, and “nonessential” or “non-excepted” workers are sent home, while “essential” or “excepted” workers are expected to work, although some without pay. Programs that relate to national security, public safety, or those whose funding is already written into law will still be funded—such as Social Security and the pay of members of Congress. So far, an estimated 800,000 government employees have been furloughed.
The National Institutes of Health has been hit hard. ABC News reported that “John Burklow, a spokesman for the NIH, estimated that 200 patients would experience these delays each week of the shutdown. Since 15 percent of these patients are typically children, and 33 percent of these children have cancer, that means the patients facing delays would include about 30 children per week, 10 of whom have cancer, he said.”
The Environmental Protection Agency will practically close down, only the monitoring of Superfund sites will continue.
Veterans will feel the impact of a shutdown. The Washington Post reported that “the Veterans Benefits Administration will be unable to process education and rehabilitation benefits. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals will be unable to hold hearings. What’s more, if the shutdown lasts for more than two or three weeks, the Department of Veterans Affairs has said that it may not have enough money to pay disability claims and pension payments. That could affect some 3.6 million veterans.”
“Veterans can rest assured that it’s operations as usual here,” said Peter Potter, director of public affairs at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center. He explained that because the hospital offers emergency services, its funding and budget is appropriated differently.
The Veteran’s Association’s statement read, “Regarding health care: It’s important to know that the Veterans Health Administration, the branch of the VA that operates VA medical centers, including the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center and our 12 Community Based Outpatient Clinics, has advance appropriations for fiscal year 2014. This means that our hospitals, clinics and other health services will remain open. In the event of a prolonged shutdown, VA will continue to review and update its plan in conjunction with the applicable legal requirements and circumstances.”
For now, the facilities are completely functional, but Potter added that “if this is going to be a long-lasting issue it will just depend on time.”
Another program likely to take a huge hit is the Women, Infants and Children program, which helps pregnant women and new mothers purchase food, obtain nutritional information for their babies, and gain access to health-care providers. The Washington Post reported, “The USDA estimates most states have funds to continue their programs for ‘a week or so,’ but they’ll ‘likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period’—emergency funds may run out by the end of October.”
Emily Cote, marketing and communication specialist for the Commission on Economic Opportunity in Troy, said that for now their WIC program is “fully functional” and that the “word so far from funders was that it is business as usual.” She noted that much of the funding for the current budget came from funds allocated by the state.
She also said that “program funding has very strict rules forbidding the sharing of customer data,” but that “all of CEO’s programs together served over 14,000 people last year alone.” One of the other programs that CEO provides is the early-education initiative, the Head Start program—another service that is heavily reliant on federal funding. Cote said that that particular program is also “operating as usual,” but that it is “still hurting from the impacts of sequestration.” Representatives from the New York State Head Start Association were unable to respond to a media request because they were in Washington D.C. to rally against funding losses caused by the budget sequester from earlier this year.
The last government shutdown in 1996 lasted 28 days, and there is no telling how long the current shutdown will be. “We are just trying to stay positive and hope they get it sorted out soon,” said Cote.