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Federal government workers rally in Chicago over shutdown

Government workers rally against the partial government shutdown at Federal Plaza on Thursday in Chicago. The partial government shutdown continues to drag on with hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job or working without pay as the border wall fight persists.

CROWN POINT — Social Security checks still are printing and postal workers still are delivering them to Region mailboxes.

As the partial government shutdown extends into its fourth week, Northwest Indiana residents still can count on these government checks, for the moment.

The U.S. District Courts remain open for business and their employees will be paid through January, said Robert Trgovich, the district's clerk. 

So anyone with a jury summons for trials this week, including that of Portage Mayor James Snyder, is expected to report to the federal court building in Hammond. Snyder's trial is currently estimate to last about four weeks.

However, Trgovich said the courts are running on limited funds and judges will decide on a court-by-court basis which cases are essential enough to continue uninterrupted.

Military veterans still are receiving their benefits and the Adam Benjamin Jr. Veterans Administration outpatient clinic in Crown Point remains open, said Ray Guiden, the county veterans services director.

Indiana plans to issue February's food stamp benefits. The state's Family and Social Services Administration said Friday it will distribute February's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits Jan. 19 for about 585,000 Indiana residents.

About one in 10 Hoosiers receive SNAP food assistance and about three-quarters of them are children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The FSSA said it's "strongly" encouraging Indiana's SNAP recipients to budget the benefits they'll receive next week to ensure that they'll cover their food needs throughout February.

Shutdown begins

The partial federal shutdown started Dec. 22 as a dispute between President Trump and Congress over funding a multibillion wall along the country's southern border, has left an impression on some in Northwest Indiana.

The U.S. House's Appropriations Committee reports that 5,167 federal employees have been affected in Indiana, said Kevin Spicer, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary. They must work without any guarantee of being paid if deemed essential. If not, they are being furloughed.

That includes 313 Internal Revenue Service and 325 Customs and Border Protection employees, according to a spokesman for the National Treasury Employees Union.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which has had to furlough most of its staff, recently canceled a planned public hearing to outline how the agency planned to clean up high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil at East Chicago's former West Calumet Housing Complex.

Cleanup work at the East Chicago Superfund site and in the Robertsdale neighborhood in Hammond and Whiting around the former Federated Metals plant already was suspended for the winter. It currently is expected to resume this spring, if the shutdown is over by then.

It is unclear what impact the shutdown will have on the Department of Justice's proposed consent decree requiring U.S. Steel to pay about $600,000 in civil penalties and $630,000 in damages to several agencies for its response to a 2017 chemical spill.

Congress annually is required to pass a dozen appropriation bills to fund every federal government's agency and service.

Legislators voted last September to provide revenues for the Department of Defense, Energy, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Veterans Affairs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Their offices in Northwest Indiana remain open and their benefits will flow for the foreseeable future.

Haves and have nots

Legislators have yet to appropriate money to a significant fraction of the government including the Department of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, the National Park Service, the EPA, State Department, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Transportation Security Administration employees will be work without pay at national airports. They typically are assigned work at the Gary/Chicago International Airport unless a flight is scheduled.

The Farm Service Agency is closed to farmers who apply to it for crop support payments. Nevertheless, the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service offices in Lake, Porter and LaPorte, which provide assistance to farmers and other services, remain open. They are primarily funded through state and county taxes.

Indiana is the fifth-least affected state by the government shutdown, according to a recent WalletHub analysis.

That's largely because Midwest states have fewer federal employees as a share of the state's workforce.

While Hoosier manufacturers do win some federal contracts, the overall amount pales in comparison to states with large defense companies or small population states with major federal research operations, such as the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico.

Similarly, Indiana's generally affordable housing compared to other states minimizes the shutdown impact caused by employee furloughs at mortgage-related federal agencies, including the Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Administration and the IRS.

Indiana also has no national parks. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore remains open, however, park visitor services, contact stations and maintenance are closed, according to its website.

Times staff writer Dan Carden contributed to this report.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.