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Oklahomans grapple with growing shutdown impact as resources start to dry up

October 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
It's not just the estimated 40,000 furloughed federal employees in Oklahoma who are feeling the effects of the shutdown, but also non-profit organizations, businesses and the growing number of citizens that rely on government-funded programs. Bob Sands of public station OETA reports on the impact being felt across the state.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: While efforts to end the government shutdown continue, we examine the effect it’s having on communities across the country.

For starters, Bob Sands of public station OETA reports on the fallout in central Oklahoma.

 BOB SANDS, OETA: With an estimated 40,000 people in central Oklahoma who work for the federal government and a growing number of Oklahomans on food stamps or other government-funded programs, just about every one knows somebody who is being affected by the shutdown or is about to be.

The impact extends far beyond government workers now to businesses and nonprofit organizations.

MARNIE TAYLOR, Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits: There isn’t anybody who has extra resources sitting around in a nonprofit, because, if they do, they’re using them for program and to fulfill their mission. So when some of those resources start to dry up or begin to look scarce, we really have additional stress on these organizations and even — and a toll on the people who work there.

BOB SANDS: Marnie Taylor is president & CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.

MARNIE TAYLOR: Those people who are used to depending on those agencies are possibly going to see cutbacks in those grants that are either not going to pay, going to be slow to pay, never going to be reimbursed, whatever the consequences are. And there are absolutely nonprofits who have already heard, you’re not going to — this grant is not going to happen any longer.

BOB SANDS: And then the double-whammy hits.

MARNIE TAYLOR: Those people who could have been donors to their church or to their nonprofit are suddenly going to be on the other side of that and potentially be clients.

BOB SANDS: That’s now happening at food pantries across the state. Rodney Bivens is the executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

RODNEY BIVENS, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma: A lot of people live from one paycheck to the other. And so, if they don’t have that paycheck coming in, they will have to start making choices. And those are choices we don’t want our government friends to have to make.

BOB SANDS: Terry Bryce is state director for the Women, Infants and Children’s program that serves 90,000 Oklahomans with a focus on providing nutrition assistance to a vulnerable population.

TERRY BRYCE, Oklahoma Women, Infants and Children: Our participants are coming into the clinics. They’re getting nutrition education. All of our food that we provide has a specific nutritional value. And it’s just a supplemental program, so we don’t give them all the food that they need per month.

BOB SANDS: Things like dairy products, cereal, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and whole grain products specifically targeted to new mothers and their children. WIC is 100 percent federally funded. The program is on a short rope financially, but is operating for now.

To qualify for WIC, a person has to be under 185 percent of the poverty level. In Oklahoma, that involves a lot of children.

TERRY BRYCE:  Over 50 percent of all the infants born in the state of Oklahoma are on the WIC program. And that’s just not true for Oklahoma. It’s true nationally as well.

BOB SANDS: And, already, the WIC program is feeling the increased need because of the government shutdown.

TERRY BRYCE:  We have had some individuals that have been furloughed that have contacted the program. And we have put them on the program. And so certainly, if they’re eligible for it and there’s a need for it, as of right now, we can certainly put them on the program.

BOB SANDS: Thomas Wright works at Tinker Air Force Base in the sprawling air logistics center known as Building 9001. Since 1984, he has been a jet engine mechanic. And while he is still on the job, it’s now just busywork.

THOMAS WRIGHT, Tinker Air Force Base: Because we’re not doing anything. Everybody’s sitting around waiting. They don’t know if they are going to have the money to do anything anymore.

BOB SANDS: Across town, Timothy Hibner is an FAA employee and vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents many of the workers at the FAA center.

TIMOTHY HIBNER, American Federation of Government Employees: My paychecks are being used for the house payment. The wife’s paychecks are being used for discretionary funds. And my house payment is pulled out of my paycheck. If that paycheck don’t show up, then that payment don’t get made.

BOB SANDS: Tim and others who are members of the FAA Credit Union do have some of that stress eased a bit because their credit union has taken steps to help them.

STEVE RASMUSSEN, Federal Aviation Administration Credit Union: We are off in the short-term lone at zero percent interest that make up for credit card payments that they may have missed because payrolls will be disrupted.

BOB SANDS: Steve Rasmussen is president & CEO of the FAA Credit Union, a financial institution where more than 35 percent of its members are federal employees. The credit union will extend short-term loans longer if needed And allow members to skip a house payment without charge. They have also lifted overdraft charges on checking accounts.

STEVE RASMUSSEN: They’re taking advantage of the loans already, even the zero percent interest or even the six-month. And the overdrafts, we haven’t seen those start yet, because everybody got paid that first week of the shutdown. Now, after this week, that’s when things really get to be a challenge for people.

BOB SANDS: The budget and debt ceiling fight seem like distant issues to people on furlough and has little meaning to their daily lives.

TIMOTHY HIBNER: It just seems like it’s a snowball that keeps rolling downhill that nobody is willing to stop. And I don’t know why.

BOB SANDS: Among many we talked to about the shutdown, one thought about the process was often repeated and is best expressed by Tinker Air Force Base employee Thomas Wright.

THOMAS WRIGHT: Basically, it’s, do your job. You expect me to do mind, do yours.

BOB SANDS: Among the other effects of the shutdown, it’s caused the Oklahoma National Guard to cancel its usual weekend training this month. And while some of the state conservation commission’s 87 offices are open, they can’t operate because they share space with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As the days go by, it’s clear the impact of the shutdown is spreading and will become far more evident if a deal isn’t reached in Washington by the end of the month, when more bills come do and more state agencies that depend on federal funding run out of money.