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Shutdown means local correctional officers go unpaid; Grim project, more left hanging

Shutdown means local correctional officers go unpaid; Grim project, more left hanging

January 17th, 2019 by Karl Richter in Texarkana News

Local effects of the federal government shutdown include correctional officers going unpaid and delays that could result in a later-than-expected start for the Hotel Grim renovation project.

As the shutdown approaches four weeks old, more than 200 Bureau of Prisons employees at Texarkana, Texas' Federal Correctional Institution are "feeling the pinch," said Robert Young, a spokesman for their union, Council of Prison Locals C-33, Local 2459.

The officers are required to work without pay, even logging unpaid overtime hours to cover for sick colleagues. The situation is beginning to take a toll.

"It varies how much savings can last. And also there are those who had circumstances before the shutdown happened, with sick family members, they themselves being sick. We have various veterans that have issues. Case in point, we have one individual where they just adopted a child and then his wife is having another child, and the financial burden is heavy for them. We have a staff member who was already dealing with a sick wife who had cancer, and he's the only one working. We have couples that work out there, so they're getting no checks," Young said.

The situation is especially difficult because federal correctional officers' employment status depends on solid financial standing.

"You hear the stories in the break room about the worry of maintaining good credit, because as a federal worker, we have to maintain good credit. We've got to pay our just debts," Young said. "One missed check can cripple all that, especially when you have a family of four."

Concerns about covering everyday expenses such as food and gasoline bills add to the stress of an already dangerous job.

"You don't want that worry going into a situation like that, meaning you have to have your mind on what's before you because you are dealing with convicted criminals. The normal worry day to day if this shutdown wasn't going on gets inflated because you don't have a check," Young said.

The union has no position on who is to blame for the shutdown or exactly how it should be resolved. Members only want it to end.

"All we want is them to come to an agreement and let furloughed workers get back to work, and let us continue to work but get paid," Young said.

The shutdown has affected both Texarkanas' city governments by making certain federal resources unavailable, delaying and complicating various processes.

"Our staff regularly communicates with federal agencies regarding a number of federal grants the city administers and many of those employees have been furloughed. We have several federal grant applications in process or under consideration that have made the submission process more difficult as a result of the shutdown," said David Orr, the Texas side's director of planning and community development.

One result is a probable delay in closing the sale of downtown's Hotel Grim and the beginning of renovation work there, last predicted to occur in February.

"We have been advised by the Hotel Grim development team that the historic tax credit review process is at the federal review level. Our historic application was submitted over 30 days ago with the majority of that time occurring during the federal shutdown and as a result, it is anticipated that the application will be delayed beyond the statutory 45-day federal review process," Orr said.

On the Arkansas side, concern is focused on federal Community Development Block Grants and grants from the Economic Development Administration, City Manager Kenny Haskin said.

"CDBG programs that are funded out of our public services line item will be affected as we do not front these programs while a government shutdown is ongoing. Grant administration is typically fronted from the Public Works budget, however it could be impacted as well if it extends past February. Other programs funded by CDBG such as public facilities (roads and parks), housing rehab and housing demolition will be greatly impacted as we do not front these funds.

"EDA grant projects will be affected as they are federally funded and the EDA offices are closed during the shutdown.

"The city will be unable to submit its Section 108 Loan application for projects while the offices are shut down," Haskin said.

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