Budget impasse could soon affect local businesses

Furloughed federal employee David Chambo worries not only for his household budget, but also for the local businesses he says are not getting paid for services because of the shutdown of his employer.

Chambo, of McHenry, has worked since his 2010 retirement from the Army for the Chicago office of the Defense Contract Management Agency, which works with suppliers to make sure supplies for the Department of Defense and related government agencies get delivered on time and to specifications.

While corporate giants such as Northrop Grumman and Colt Defense spring to mind when it comes to military contracts, Chambo said the government contracts with many small businesses – some, he said, in McHenry County – for goods and services from washers to parts for naval vessels.

With the partial shutdown, Chambo said, small businesses that have government contracts are losing money, which means private employees – not just furloughed federal ones – could start hurting, and soon.

“Now you’re going to have the assembly lines shut down, because there are no inspections of the quality of the material, and the products can’t be shipped and these people can’t be paid,” Chambo said. “And therefore, the military person isn’t going to get their goods and services on the battlefield or wherever to replace deficient or broken equipment.”

The shutdown, which resulted in the furloughs of almost 800,000 federal workers, is now in its fifth day. While the House is expected to vote Saturday to restore some federal services, a vote to end the shutdown is nowhere in sight.

Republicans who control the House passed a bill before the Oct. 1 start of the federal 2014 fiscal year to continue funding the government, but only if the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act is delayed a year. Democrats who control the Senate have rejected the idea and have voted to remove the language, pointing out the law was not only approved by both houses when they were under Democratic control, but also was upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the real showdown to watch hasn’t been between two parties in the two houses of Congress, but the fight among House Republicans. Tea party Republicans have fought for the anti-Obamacare language, but a number of Republicans support passing a “clean” bill to reopen the government.

Both of McHenry County’s representatives in the House, Republicans Randy Hultgren and Peter Roskam, voted to link continued funding to a delay in the health care law’s implementation. Illinois’ two senators voted along party lines – Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin has voted to remove the language delaying the individual mandate while Republican Mark Kirk has voted against its removal.

Attempts since Thursday to reach Hultgren and Roskam, exacerbated by the furloughing of congressional office staff, were not successful. Both have taken to their websites and social media to say they are standing fast.

“We have heard loud and clear that Americans want to keep the government open and push the pause button on Obamacare. Our votes carried out their will,” Hultgren said in a statement after the Monday vote before the shutdown.

Polls show a sizable majority of Americans are unhappy with the government shutdown, with more of them blaming Republicans over President Obama and the Democrats.

House Republicans will likely vote Saturday on a number of bills reinstating spending to undo service cuts affecting border security, Head Start and other programs. The House voted Friday, as Tropical Storm Karen headed for the Gulf coast, to reinstate funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The bills are similar to attempts in the first days of the shutdown to restore funding for national parks and veterans affairs. Senate Democrats have rejected piecemeal restoration of government funding.

Woodstock-based Community Action Agency Head Start should be adequately funded because its fiscal year starts in August and is therefore on the previous federal fiscal year, Executive Director Karin Nuelle said. However, she heard from another Head Start program Friday that it could not access the federal payment management system to pay its employees.

Nuelle said her agency has enough money in reserve to pay its 59 employees next week should the shutdown continue. After that, she said, she will have no way to pay them.

“We hope that’s not going to happen. Hopefully Congress will get this resolved,” Nuelle said.

Chambo said he does as well. The lost wages are on top of the $3,200 he estimates he lost as a result of the ongoing set of budget cuts known as sequestration – he had to take one unpaid day off a week for six weeks. He said the DOD memo he and his co-workers received upon the start of the partial shutdown warned not to expect to receive back pay once the shutdown ends, but bills have been filed in both the House and Senate to pay federal workers for lost days.

Chambo’s family has savings to fall back on, but he is also paying for college for his two adult children. Just in case, the family scratched its plans for the Columbus Day weekend.

“We’re already changing plans. We had to, because we don’t know the outcome or how long this is going to last,” Chambo said.

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