News and Tribune

October 4, 2013

Local officials consider shutdown effect

Young: Senate needs to come to negotiating table

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — Public housing, multimillion dollar road projects and sidewalk installations hinge on federal funding, and that has some New Albany officials concerned about what will result from a prolonged government shutdown.

As Congress and the White House took turns Thursday blaming each other for the shutdown, Bob Lane, executive director of the New Albany Housing Authority, mulled over what the latest federal controversy could mean for the hundreds of families that rely on public housing locally. Between capital improvement funding and money to operate the entity, the New Albany housing authority endured a cut of more than $940,000 this year due to the federal sequester.

The shutdown hasn’t led to further funding reductions yet, but Lane said it has frozen communications between the housing authority and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

“With this shutdown, we don’t have any direct access to HUD officials to answer questions we have, or to access some of the things we do on a daily basis,” Lane said. “Somebody from our department is in touch with HUD every day, and we’re constantly getting email notices on things as they change, and you just kind of see that stand still.”

From grant applications to counseling to ensure federal guidelines for financing and occupancy are being met, Lane said the housing authority relies on HUD for direction.

“We need to stop this insanity as quick as we can,” Lane said.

A notification on HUD’s website Thursday stated that due to the government shutdown, some information on the site “may not be up to date.”

The shutdown didn’t impact the city’s ability to meet a Tuesday deadline to have the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program houses occupied, as the project was footed by a $6.7 million grant from HUD.

However David Duggins, director of economic development and redevelopment for the city, said a lengthy shutdown could affect the federal aid funds that have been promised for in-design road projects. Up to 80 percent of improvements such as the planned $4 million upgrade to Mt. Tabor Road are slated to be covered by federal aid.

Shutting down the federal government for a week might not threaten such projects, but after that, Duggins said it could impede on contracts the city has for design and potentially construction.

“If it drags on for a lengthy period of time, we’d be worried about our ability to pay our contractors,” Duggins said.

The city also utilizes federal Community Development Block Grant funds for sidewalk installations and improvements, which Duggins said are also of a concern to Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration due to the shutdown.



FEDERAL COURTHOUSE OPERATING

A spokesman for the agency that manages federal buildings, the U.S. General Services Administration, said the Lee H. Hamilton Federal Building in New Albany was fully operational Wednesday.

He was attempting to confirm the status for the building Thursday as of press time, but the doors to the structure were open and security was present and checking entrants in the lobby as usual.

The voicemail for Cynthia Alchin, property manager for the Lee H. Hamilton Federal Building, stated  Thursday that she would be unable to answer phone calls or return messages due to the shutdown.

U.S. Bankruptcy and district courts as well as offices for U.S. Attorneys and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are located in the building.



YOUNG: SENATE NEEDS TO NEGOTIATE

U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., voted in favor of resolutions that passed the House that would fund certain federal operations such as the National Institutes of Health. But the Democratic-controlled Senate, as of press time Thursday, doesn’t appear likely to hold votes on the separate funding measures.

President Barack Obama and Democratic leadership have stated they won’t negotiate funding a handful of departments. Instead, Democrats have called for an up or down vote in the House on a “clean” funding bill that would foot all previously approved programs including the Affordable Care Act.

Young said it’s time for the Senate to come to the negotiating table.

“On three separate occasions in the past week and a half, I voted for House proposals to keep the government running,” Young said in a news release. “The Senate rejected two of those resolutions without offering a new proposal of their own.”

There’s still disagreement over funding the Affordable Care Act, but Young urged the Senate to take up legislation that would fund noncontroversial programs such as benefits for veterans.

During an August stop in New Albany, Young told the News and Tribune that blocking funding for the new health care law likely wouldn’t succeed. He foreshadowed a scenario where Congress would fund short extensions of the government, and ultimately the president would be forced to sign comprehensive tax reform into law.

Young said he still disagreed with the law, but added he didn’t believe breaching funding deadlines would be a viable option to delay or void the Affordable Care Act.

When asked if Young had changed his position, the congressman’s office responded Thursday that it’s up to the Senate to come to the negotiating table with the House to iron out the differences over government funding where disagreements remain.