Budget crisis shuts down CT National Guard

Washington – The federal shutdown has furloughed hundreds of full-time Connecticut National Guardsmen and forced the cancellation of drills scheduled for this weekend.

Besides stopping paychecks for 640 full-time civilian and active duty guardsman and 200 civilian contractors, the shutdown has also put a halt to the drilling and training of nearly 4,000  part-time “citizen soldiers,” who are paid for their weekend services. The drills will stop until the U.S. government resumes business.

Some active duty guardsmen and essential civilian personnel remain on the job, without pay.

“There’s frustration because we had to send people home on Tuesday and told them ‘we don’t know when you’ll be back’,” said Connecticut National Guard spokesman Col. John Whitford.

The federal government closed Tuesday because Congress could not agree to a short-term spending bill that would continue to fund the federal government in the new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

Whitford said the “positive” in the situation is that the National Guard will continue to respond to any emergency in the state. When guardsmen are called up by a governor, their payroll becomes a state responsibility and would not not impacted by the government shutdown.

The shutdown is having a widening impact in Connecticut. Immediately, more than 1,000 pre-school children in Bridgeport lost their Head Start program, and more than 300 Head Start staff members were furloughed.

Nearly 2,000 civilian employees at the Naval Submarine Base in New London have been temporarily laid off, as have hundreds of other federal workers in Connecticut.

Congress did approve a last-minute bill, which President Obama signed into law, that allows active duty military members to continue to be paid. But that only applies to about 70 Connecticut guardsmen who are deployed overseas.

In addition, Sikorksky aircraft plans to furlough about 2,000 employees on Monday because the company said it could not continue to manufacture helicopters without federal inspectors and auditors. Pratt & Whitney, another major employer, is also planning temporary layoffs because of the shutdown. In a few weeks, those layoffs could number 5,000 or more, said United Technologies, the parent company of Sikorsky and Pratt & Whitney.

Late Friday, the entire Connecticut congressional delegation wrote Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking him to use whatever “legal flexibility” he has to put those inspectors, members of the Defense Contracting Management Agency, back to work.

Meanwhile, agreement on a budget in Congress remains elusive.

Republican House leaders have proposed small-bore spending bills that would fund parts of the federal government. The National Guard is the subject of one of them. But Senate Democrats have rejected this piecemeal approach, as have Connecticut’s Democratic House members.

“It’s time for House GOP leaders to stop putting forward irresponsible gimmicks, stop trying to placate a fringe minority of their conference, and stop blocking measures that would fully reopen the government,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.

Republicans say Democrats are harming their constituents by rejecting these limited spending bills, which, besides funding the National Guard, would fund nutrition programs for women and children, the Head Start program, veterans’ benefits and reopen the national parks.

House and Senate Democrats insist on a short-term spending bill that would open the entire federal government and fund it through mid-December. That would allow time to negotiate substantive budget issues with the GOP, Democrats say.

But House Republicans insist that type of short-term bill roll back the Affordable Care Act, a non-starter with congressional Democrats and the White House.

Congress is likely to stay in session Saturday, and perhaps even Sunday.

Meanwhile Whitford said the uncertainty caused by the budget crisis is wearing on the state’s Air National Guard and Army National Guard.

“Our service members deserve better,” he said.
 

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