Federal payments, mail continue in Malheur County despite shutdown

The Enterprise

VALE – With brinkmanship continuing in Congress, Malheur County may have a hard time detecting the impact locally of the government shutdown.

Mail service will continue. Payments for Social Security, unemployment and other federal benefits will still flow out. Essential services such as law enforcement and immigration will continue.

The latest state employment figures show the county has about 235 federal employees who earn on average $1,037 a week. They are a small part of Malheur County’s total labor force of about 12,300.

The biggest federal employer in the county is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with 200 workers operating from the district office in Vale.

The Farm Services Agency, which operates a branch in Ontario, also was to be closed until Congress could approve more federal funding.

According to the federal Office of Management and Budget, that agency’s employees were “directed to physically report at their work location to their supervisors to receive their assignments of duties or other pertinent information for an orderly shutdown.”

The federal government technically ran out of money at midnight Friday when Congress failed to pass a continuing resolution. That mechanism allowed federal agencies to function at levels from the last fiscal year while Congress continues to work on a new budget. The new budget year started last October.

Oregon’s Congressional delegation participated in the national finger pointing about who was to blame.

“We didn’t have to be here, and you sure as heck didn’t have to shut down the government,” Congressman Greg Walden said on the House floor Saturday. “When you voted against that yesterday, you voted not to provide insurance to children and pregnant women in our states. That is wrong. We are here to govern. We are governing as Republicans. We will get this government up and running and we will take care of those children.”

Walden said he wouldn’t take his Congressional pay while federal employees are furloughed.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement: “Instead of coming to the table and working on bipartisan solutions for dreamers, kids on CHIP and natural disasters like wildfires, Republican leaders insisted on a cruel partisan agenda that failed children at every turn and left our country weaker. I hope they set aside this ideological course and work to reopen the government and solve these pressing problems.”

In his statement, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley said: “President Trump and most Congressional Republicans are choosing to shut down the government rather than agree to a bipartisan deal. President Trump has been rooting for a shutdown and now he’s got it. This Trump shutdown isn’t a reality TV show – it’s going to have actual consequences for the economy and America’s families, small businesses, military, and kids will pay the price. It’s time for the Republican Congress and the president to do their jobs and take the bipartisan deal in front of them.”

One element of the budget measure passed by the House but stalled in the Senate would provide federal money for six years to continue insuring children.

Walden noted that the House last November passed legislation he promoted that would fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for five years. That proposal went to the Senate, where it has sat in the Senate Finance Committee.

Wyden is the senior Democrat on that committee and in October he and the committee chairman, Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah, proposed in September their own extension of the children’s insurance program. The committee approved the extension and sent it to the Senate floor.