Friday, April 08, 2011

TOP STORY > >New deal keeps all operating for now

Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base will continue flying and training, even if a congressional financial fracas had caused a government shutdown.

TSgt. Juan Torres, a spokesman for the base, said Friday evening the base would have seen some limited disruptions, but that the mission would continue even in a shutdown.

Torres said about 500 to 600 civilians work on the base, and they would have been furloughed until the shutdown was resolved.

“They will come in to turn in electronic equipment like their Blackberrys and sign a statement that they understand that they will do no volunteer work for the government during the shutdown,” Torres said in the even of shutdown.

He said the civilian force would turn over anything they are working on to their military counterparts.

In a letter to military members from Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy, the senior leaders said, “We fully understand that a shutdown is extremely disruptive to our mission, to you and to your families.

“Therefore, the Air Force will continue to conduct activities in support of our national security—particularly urgent operational requirements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Japan and other immediate military needs.”

The shutdown would also mean that the Internal Revenue Service is closing and tax refund checks would be delayed. But the IRS still expects tax forms and payments to be mailed in by the end of business April 18.

Also many federal grants that cities and counties apply for to help fund local projects would be delayed or stopped.

However, Social Security checks will still be delivered and processed. Medicare will be mailed as usual. The federal school-lunch program for students will also remain funded. But small business loans won’t and neither will government-backed mortgages. That could delay some home closings and put buyers and sellers in limbo.

No passports will be processed during the shutdown, possibly causing headaches for local residents who have out-of-the country trips planned in the near future.

Torres explained that financially the shutdown would impact all military members on the base, at least temporarily. “We get paid on the 15th and the first of every month. The 15th paycheck will only go through today (April 8),” he said, adding that when the stalemate is resolved military members will get back pay.

“We won’t be working for free,” he added.

The financial future is a little cloudier for the civilians. “Back in 1995 when the government shutdown,” Torres explained, “the civilian workers received back pay for the days missed, but there’s been no indication yet one way or the other this time.”

Larry Biernacki, president of the Arkansas Federal Credit Union, says its military members need to call the credit union if the government shutdown shorts their checks and puts them in a financial jam.

“It’s not fair to punish the men and women who serve our country when something like this happens and things are out of their control,” he said.

“Thousands of our members rely on a government paycheck to make their automatic loan payments, credit-card payments and more each month. We want those members to know we are willing to work out an arrangement on an individual basis if this shutdown interrupts their normal financial wellbeing,” Biernacki said.

According to information provided by the Department of Defense, if the shutdown is over by Tuesday, military accounting officials believe they can get members’ full pay into the April 15 checks. If not, the service will be looking at a special “catch-up” payday for the troops.

For DoD civilians, the April 15 check will be complete for most because of the way the pay period ends for civilians. For civilians that are directed to work, they will be paid retroactively, like the military, if the shutdown drags on. For those furloughed, Congress would have to pass special authority to pay them.