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Shutdown brings furloughs, inconvenience in Minn.

October 2, 2013
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Defense Department civilian employees Dustin Hawkins and Dan Delgado reported for duty Tuesday at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station only to get their federal furlough notices, lock down their tools and collect belongings they might need if the government shutdown drags on for weeks. They won't be paid for the day's time — or for as long as the stoppage lasts.

"It's very insulting," Hawkins said, shaking his head in disgust about the political impasse likely to cost him at least $200 in daily pay given his $29 per hour wage. Hawkins, an electrician, said leaders in Washington crossed a line. "It seems the politicians are more worried now about proving a point," he said.

Many employees classified as nonessential have been idled by the partial federal government shutdown that began early Tuesday. It's not clear how many of the estimated 18,000 federal employees in the state have been sidelined, and it's anyone's guess how long the shutdown will last.

Delgado, an equipment mechanic on the base, said he's worried about his ability to pay his bills if it's a protracted standoff and is unsure if he should be looking for a backup job. Delgado, a military veteran, said throughout the lead-up to the shutdown he expected it would be solved in the nick of time.

"I thought Uncle Sam never gets broken," Delgado said. "I was blinded somehow."

The Minnesota National Guard said it was putting 1,207 of its 2,100 full-time military support personnel on furlough until further notice. Army Lt. Col Jon J. Lovald, director of human resources for the Guard, said supervisors delivered word to those affected on Tuesday morning. In a written statement, he said "it is important that the people of Minnesota know that our citizen-soldiers and airmen remain ready to respond to state or federal emergencies."

Reaction in the state's congressional delegation fell along party lines. Democrats blamed conservative House Republicans for what Rep. Betty McCollum called "a manufactured political crisis." Republicans, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann, said President Barack Obama and Democratic Senate leaders must negotiate with the GOP on the nation's new health care law to "put an end to their government slowdown."

State officials said it was too soon to tell how the shutdown would affect the state's economy, grants it gets from the federal government or services delivered to its residents. Minnesota lacks major military bases and has few monuments and parks overseen by the federal government.

The Minnesota Management and Budget department is assessing the shutdown's potential impact, Commissioner Jim Schowalter said.

"Due to the size and complexity of federal funding, determining impacts is complicated," Schowalter said. "Not all agencies, and therefore services, are impacted equally. We expect the list of services impacted to grow depending upon the duration of the shutdown."

Department of Public Safety spokesman Bruce Gordon said people applying for federal disaster aid stemming from summer storms will see those processed as usual. Veterans are being advised their medical appointments at federal veterans hospitals won't be affected.

Elsewhere in Minnesota, the shutdown has created minor inconveniences. Federal agency phone lines and websites feature messages warning of slowed services.

Calls to St. Paul's Internal Revenue Service rolled to an automated message.

"Due to the current budget situation, all IRS offices are closed," the message says. "We will resume normal operations as soon as possible. Under federal law, all tax payments and filing deadlines remain in effect during this period. People should file and pay their taxes as normal."

Delgado spent part of his free time carrying a sign outside the workplace he'll be barred from. He didn't hold back in the message he wants delivered to Washington.

"If you want to use us, use us as workers, not as bargaining chips," Delgado said.



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