Saturday | April 25, 2015
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Shutdown has far-reaching effect on Hawaii Island

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>From left, Felina Sakumoto and Judy Mendoza looks through paperwork at the WIC office in Hilo on Wednesday afternoon.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>The WIC office in Hilo was still open Wednesday afternoon despite the federal government shutdown.</p>

By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hawaii Island residents continued Wednesday to wrestle with the impacts of the far-flung budget acrimony in Washington, D.C., that has shuttered federally-funded sites and services across the nation.

All training had ceased Wednesday at the U.S. Army Garrison at Pohakuloa Training Area, and 40 of the installation’s 225 employees had been sent home as a result of the budget impasse, according to Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Eric P. Shwedo.

“What we are doing now is consolidating. We still have some soldiers on the ground to maintain equipment, shut things down, and turn in ammunition,” he said. “They’re keeping the base running, for life, health and safety purposes. They’re making sure the remaining guys are getting fed. And all emergency services are in tact, none of them have been furloughed.”

The majority of the soldiers that were training at the garrison have returned to Oahu, he added.

“None of this is in our hands,” he said. “We’re just working within the parameters given to us. … Where we are right now is we’re making assessments every day on the way ahead until this situation changes.”

Meanwhile, there was some good news for mothers around the island. Despite various reports and concerns to the contrary, both the Hilo and Kona offices of the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children will remain open for the foreseeable future, said Hawaii Department of Health WIC Services Branch Chief Linda Chock.

The program provides low-income families with children under five years of age with monthly vouchers good for the purchase of milk, baby formula, healthy food and other necessities. The $7 billion program issues money to individual state’s departments of health, which then distribute the funds.

“At this point in time we have looked at what we have leftover from last year’s funding, and we are OK to proceed as usual,” Chock said Wednesday. “We’ll be keeping a close eye on all our bills, but we feel that we are going to be OK. … Clients may continue to report to their appointments, and cash checks at vendors.”

The branch chief said she couldn’t share the exact amount of funding leftover in the program’s coffers, because she did not want to worry families, or cause them to prematurely redeem their vouchers for food which might spoil before their next regularly scheduled vouchers are given to them.

“We don’t want to give out information that would cause people to panic,” she said. “We should be OK for the near future, and we’re trying to see if there would be any kind of state funding available if this thing goes on for months. Personally, I’m hoping that won’t happen.”

A contringency plan issued Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that if continuing appropriations are not made to keep the WIC Program operating, individual states could run out of funding by the end of October.

“States may make the decision to continue operations for some period, but they will be doing so at their own risk with the understanding that Federal funds may not be forthcoming,” the report states.

In August, Hilo’s WIC offices served 5,182 people, while the Kealakekua office served 1,529, according to Chock.

“We did have a few calls from participants who are worried,” she said. “But we put something on our website and we’re reassuring people that we are open for business. … It’s business as usual.”

She added that the only WIC clients in the state who have been impacted by the shutdown have been those on military bases on Oahu, where commissaries have been closed.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

 

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