July 23, 2014

Government shutdown hits Williston residents

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By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

October 10, 2013

Williston resident Jeremie Vigneault planned to spend last week on vacation—enjoying the unusually pleasant fall weather, relaxing and helping a friend prepare to get married.

Instead, as one of the “excepted” personnel at Homeland Security in Williston, he was called into work—without pay.

Like Americans across the nation, Vigneault is feeling the crunch of the government shutdown, now in its second week.

“It’s pretty stressful,” he said. “We just purchased this house last December and I have a 10-month old baby. We’re wanting to pay the bills and we’re not sure when that check is going to come. We’re looking at all avenues to see how that’s going to happen, like our country, but basically the bottom line is just the unknown.”

Vigneault said is not sure when he will get his next paycheck.

“Eventually, we will apparently be getting paid, but we don’t know when. That’s all we are told,” he said. “Nobody knows anything.”

Vigneault is among the approximately 5,000 Vermont federal employees—many of whom work in government offices in Williston—who have been furloughed or are working without pay.

“Many of these are people who live paycheck to paycheck,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said in an Oct. 1 press release. “They do not deserve to be pawns in a game of political chicken.”

Elsewhere in Williston, lending institutions and real estate agents say shutdown impacts are minimal, though present.

John Dwyer, president of New England Federal Credit Union, said most of their mortgage loans are repackaged through Freddie Mac—which is not affected by the shutdown—rather than the government Federal Housing Authority. The FHA is still processing loans, though much more slowly due to reduced staff.

Dwyer said the impact has been “very little, luckily for us and the members who work with us.”

Although members looking to close a loan must provide proof of employment—currently difficult for furloughed workers—Dwyer said the credit union has put procedures in place to help, and most members should be able to close car or consumer loans.

Williston real estate agent Liz Merryman of Century 21 Jack Associates said most programs are running as usual. Lenders typically require two to three years of tax returns, which they then verify with transcripts from the IRS. During the shutdown, Century 21 Mortgage is waiving the requirement for transcript verification.

However, the Rural Development Loan Program—the program run by the USDA to help people in rural communities purchase homes—is not proceeding, though Merryman noted that those loans account for a small percentage of mortgages in the area.

“Everyone in the industry is hoping for a quick resolution to the shutdown,” Merryman wrote in an email to the Observer.

Town clerk Deb Beckett said the town has not been affected much by the shutdown, aside from some delays in passport processing.

STATEWIDE IMPACTS

In a press conference on Monday, Shumlin and Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Steven Cray called for a quick resolution to the shutdown.

“It’s time for those stalling progress in Congress to stop hampering our fragile economic recovery and start demonstrating a willingness to find a responsible solution to this manufactured crisis,” Shumlin said in a statement.

Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce said the looming debt ceiling limit deadline is adding to the concerns.

“The United States must not default on its financial obligations. The world economy and financial markets operate under the expectation that our leaders will act responsibly,” Pearce said. “It is time for Congress to end the standoff and take action.”

The Shumlin administration on Monday released a list of disruptions impacting Vermonters, in addition to the 5,000 federal employees in Vermont who are facing furloughs or reduced hours.

Although nearly all of the Vermont National Guard technicians sent home last week have returned to work, the shutdown is preventing training and other activities, including a monthly training weekend.

The shutdown is also delaying Small Business Administration loans and the processing of benefits for seniors and veterans, and putting Head Start programs at risk.

The Nullhegan Basin Division and Putney Mountain Unit of the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge have been closed.

Many U.S. Department of Agriculture programs have been impacted, including farm loans, market assistance loans, disaster assistance programs, grants and assistance for pets and disease.

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