Maine offices brace for possible shutdown of federal government

The Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor is seen in this 2009 file photo. Local offices and arms of the U.S. government are bracing themselves for impact if a federal shutdown becomes reality.
The Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor is seen in this 2009 file photo. Local offices and arms of the U.S. government are bracing themselves for impact if a federal shutdown becomes reality.
Posted April 06, 2011, at 7:29 p.m.
Last modified April 07, 2011, at 2:21 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — While crossing their fingers and hoping it’s all a moot point by Friday, local offices and arms of the U.S. government are also bracing themselves for impact if a federal shutdown becomes reality.

Effects could be far-reaching if Congress is unable to hammer out a federal budget deal before the Friday night deadline, when funding for essential government services would cease with no new agreement.

“The president has made it clear he doesn’t want [a shutdown], but if one happens, we are prepared,” said Sandra Salstrom, U.S. Treasury spokeswoman. “If there is a shutdown, the tax deadline would not change. Taxes will still be due April 18.”

Salstrom said one effect would be felt in the processing of federal tax returns.

“In the event there is a government shutdown, the IRS would not be able to process paper-filed tax returns. However, those filed electronically will still be processed and money owed to the government will still be collected,” Salstrom explained. “As far as how other services or hours of operation for local agencies would be affected, we just don’t know at this point.”

Most local representatives of federal agencies in Bangor, Portland and Augusta were as unsure Wednesday about the potential impact of shutdown as Maine residents themselves were.

“I’ll know when the rest of the country knows,” said Chief U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. “My sense of it is we’re all waiting to see what Congress and the president are going to do. It’s very much in flux right now.”

Woodcock said he hopes to get some helpful information about the possible impact of a shutdown on ongoing federal criminal and civil court cases when he visits Washington on Thursday.

“I’m going to an annual chief’s meeting with the administrative offices,” Woodcock said. “I’ll hear from Jim Duff, head of administrative office of the courts, as well as the head of the budget committee and the head of the executive committee of the judicial conference. They have their hands on the pulse of the federal government.”

A shutdown would restrict the federal government to providing only services protecting the safety of human life and property, such as U.S. military forces and law enforcement agencies.

Although they spend a lot of time in federal courts, officials of the U.S. Attorney’s Office would continue carrying out their duties even in the event of a shutdown.

“We’re not part of the courts. We fall under the Department of Justice,” said U.S. Attorney for Maine Thomas Delahanty II. “There are a lot of questions that have been asked and hopefully we’ll get answers tomorrow, but the expectation is that you will be able to continue criminal prosecution.”

Delahanty, who went through two state shutdowns while he was a Superior Court judge, works out of the Portland office.

“I believe and understand the courts will continue to operate, but we will have to be there to handle … the criminal cases,” Delahanty explained. “What happens if there’s a shutdown as far as office procedures is still a work in progress.”

Social Security payments, either by mail or direct deposit, would be unaffected by a shutdown, but cuts in staff or hours of operation could delay other agency services, such as the registration of new participants, according to government postings and news reports.

Other services and agencies exempt from a federal shutdown would include Medicare payments, mail delivery, veterans affairs facilities, and veterans disability compensation payments, according to various federal and state reports and notices.

Some services, such as the processing of visa and passport applications, could be halted or slowed by a shutdown. U.S. embassies worldwide would remain open, however, according to The Associated Press. Federal museums, monuments and parks, including Acadia National Park in Maine, would likely be closed.

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