PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

October 1, 2013

Washington stalemate concern to Southeast Texans

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

— While the nation’s leaders square off in political gridlock, Southeast Texans are trying to determine what effect a partial government shutdown will have locally.

A federal government shutdown could furlough as many as 800,000 of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workers. It could last a day, or maybe longer, depending on when, and if, a bitterly divided congress reaches accord on a spending bill.

Until then the local impact has monopolized conversation at places like Port Arthur’s American Legion Post.

“Its certainly been the big topic of conversation today,” Tex Vaughan, 49, of Groves, said.

A 10-year veteran of Desert Storm, Vaughan said he cannot conceive a government that would not pay its military while defending their country.

The nation’s military is just one of the casualties of the government shutdown.

While servicemen and women will continue to accrue pay, they will not receive paychecks until money is appropriated.

Vaughan reflected on the years he spent fighting for his country. A government shutdown would not have stopped him from defending the nation, he said.

“I would not have cared because it was my job, and you cannot strike as a solider. They will not walk away from a mission, but it is wrong to not pay them, and I think it should be corrected very quickly,” he said.

Veterans are worried that their services will be interrupted, and concerned about the message a divided Congress is sending across the globe, he said.

“What this is saying right now is it is all political, and they are looking out for their own best interest instead of what is best for the country,” Vaughn said. “It sends a message we have a lot of turmoil here in America.”

The local vets watching Monday’s events unfold in Washington weren’t alone.

Like many Americans, Groves mother Carol Sassine is keeping a watchful eye on the budget negotiations.

Though the state of Texas has some money to fund the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for  Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC, if the shutdown is prolonged, the food supplement program could eventually be affected — a thought that Sassine found extremely troubling.

“My 6-month-old daughter was diagnosed with infant reflux disease and her pediatrician put her on a special formula that is $52 per can,” Sassine, a waitress, said. “I don’t make that kind of money. WIC is a substantial help in getting her the type of formula she needs.”

Sassine is currently taking online courses and working toward a degree in accounting and expects to have her degree, and new career, sometime early next year.

But, until her financial picture improves, the federally funded WIC program is something she depends on.

Carrie Williams, director of media relations with the Texas Department of Health Services, the agency that administers the program, said there will be no immediate impact on WIC clients or employees at this time.

Last week, the department received word from the state governor’s offices instructing all agencies to continue to provide essential services using federal funding they had already collected.

In addition to those federal dollars, WIC receives rebates from infant formula companies to offset the cost, she said.

“We are using those dollars to keep us going, but if goes on for awhile, we will have to look at the funding again,” Williams said.

The partial government shutdown has far-reaching effects. From the purchase of milk and cheese for infants and young children, to the purchase of guns, the government stalemate has brought attention to the dire situation in Washington.

Michael Smith, a Port Arthur gun dealer, has been watching the looming shutdown, hoping his gun sales would not be negatively impacted.

Before a gun can be purchased, a background check must be performed by the FBI.

Smith said he recently received an e-mail from the FBI saying the background checks would not be suspended during the shutdown —at least not right now.

“I was wondering what would happen because I could not have sold any guns,” he said adding that he would continue to monitor the situation closely.

The shutdown could also extend into the school district, where children attend the federally funded Head Start program.

Mark Porterie, newly-named superintendent, said the popular program has some federal dollars already allotted to continue teaching the 3 and 4 year olds.

“We have a waiting list. Head Start is a very popular program. Not having it would be detrimental to the children’s learning. Those are the children we try to ensure are ready for kindergarten,” Porterie said.

If the shutdown extends beyond the money the school has, Porterie said the district would likely look to local funding.

“We understand how important Head Start is to our students, but will make every effort in the event something did happen, we would make every effort to try and fund it.”

Porterie said he will continue watching Washington while hoping the shutdown will be short-lived.

“ I have every confidence that our government will do the right thing,” he said.

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: skooncePANews

PA News staff writer Mary Meaux contributed to this story.