Shutdown affects DHS, local veterans

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The shutdown in Washington has affected a wide spectrum of government agencies, from human services to veterans to health.

Regarding human services, the shutdown has forced the Arkansas Department of Human Services to cut vital programs.

"We had to make some tough decisions," DHS communications director Amy Webb said.

The toughest decision being to furlough many essential employees. This furlough is temporary unpaid leave until the shutdown ends.

Webb said the furloughs have hit the Division of Children and Family Services the hardest.

"We've had to furlough 59 case workers and, in addition to that, we've told our case workers that there's no more overtime," Webb said.

No overtime for these child abuse investigators means children in danger could slip through the cracks.

"Child abuse just doesn't happen from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday," Webb said.

The department now has to prioritize these cases.

"The most serious allegations. And our case workers are a dedicated group of folks and they will work as hard as they can to protect the children in Arkansas," Webb said.

The shutdown also forced the department to furlough 79 employees in the Office of Long Term Care. This means less people handling nursing home inspections and complaints.

"We kept some essential staff there for emergency purposes, but you know, that is concerning to us as well that we had to furlough those workers," Webb said.

Webb said she expects these numbers to decline soon as the department receives more definite information from the federal government. However, if the numbers do not improve, Webb said the ramifications could be even more detrimental.

"What the federal government does definitely does have an impact here," Webb said.

The shutdown is also affecting veterans in Region 8, but only slightly.

The shutdown does not affect health care for veterans. All VA hospitals will remain open.

However, employment services for disabled veterans are at a stand still. The Veterans Benefits Administration cannot process education and rehabilitation benefits.

Arkansas Veterans Commission commissioner Bob Schoenborn said all of the veterans service officers in Region 8 will try to stay in service. If the federal building they work in closes, most have made plans to work else where to answer your calls.

Schoenborn said the shutdown is also causing a delay in reimbursements.

"For internment reimbursements and some travel reimbursements, some of those may be slowed a little bit, again, depending on the backlog that they have already," Schoenborn said.

These programs will go back to normal, and furloughed workers will be able to go back to work once Congress can reach an agreement.

If you have more questions about these topics, you can visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' website and the Arkansas Department of Human Services website.

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