Friday, April 8, 2011

Illinois could wince if federal government shuts

A few services initially would be hit

By Cynthia Dizikes and Hailey Branson-Potts, Tribune reporters

If the federal government shuts down Friday, few Illinois residents are likely to feel an immediate impact, but certain key services could still be halted.

Testing for some heavy metals and other toxic waste in the Great Lakes could stop. Illinois residents appealing Social Security denials may have to wait for resolution. And tourists traveling to Abraham Lincoln's historic home in Springfield would be turned away.

That's a glimpse of what may happen in Illinois if a budget impasse results in the federal government sputtering to a stop this week, employee unions warned Wednesday. But the impact largely depends on how long the shutdown lasts.

"The implications for basic services millions of Illinoisans rely upon ... are unknown, but troubling," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31.

Check out our crossword, sudoku and Jumble puzzles >>

From federal court to environmental inspections, government agencies this week are evaluating how long they can stay open, and who they can temporarily let go.

For example, if the government shuts down Friday, the U.S. District Court in Chicago will be able to operate normally for about two weeks, said Michael Dobbins, clerk of court for the Northern District of Illinois. But after that, operations will be reduced to "essential" tasks, which the court is currently evaluating.

"The court will continue to take filings, but certain cases may be delayed," Dobbins said. "Civil cases, by their nature, will not have the same urgency as criminal matters."

U.S. Department of Homeland Security law enforcement personnel, including transportation security officers and federal air marshals at O'Hare International and Midway airports, are expected to continue their duties. Mail also will be delivered, union and agency officials said Wednesday.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's water and air testing and landfill inspections at sites around Chicago could stop. Housing programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could also be put on hold.

The initial impact of a shutdown would be "negligible or none" for state, county and local government employees, Lindall said. But long-term federal funding shortages could jeopardize their work, he said.

"There's a great deal of concern," said Dale Phillips, superintendent of Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which would have to put 39 employees on furlough. "Concern is the only word I can think to describe it. We're just going to see how it goes. It's all out of our hands."

No comments: