• Check out a timeline of the federal government shutdown.
* * *
Federal courthouse workers in Nebraska received word Thursday that after next week, their paychecks are up in the air.
Nebraska public schools learned that the state lacks money to reimburse them for free or reduced-price student lunches.
The ramifications of the federal shutdown have begun to grow in intensity as it passed the 10-day mark.
Across the Midlands, state and federal agencies issued contingency plans about what would happen if the shutdown drags on beyond October.
On Oct. 1, after an impasse in Congress over an effort to defund President Obama's health care law, many agencies instantly stopped providing nonessential services as more than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed.
The IRS closed its walk-in centers, national parks locked their gates and congressional offices sent most workers home.
However, some federal agencies — and others that rely on federal funds — continued to operate because they had enough cash for the short term.
That money is beginning to run out for some.
For starters, the Nebraska Department of Education sent out a memo Thursday that it will not be able to reimburse public schools for subsidized lunches served during October.
Nebraska typically pays about $10 million each month to public schools for the lunch program. That money comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA has indicated that the money will be paid back to schools once the shutdown is resolved, according to Beverly Benes, director of the nutrition services for the Nebraska Department of Education.
Several school districts in Nebraska said they intended to keep providing lunches despite the lack of federal dollars.
“Our system will continue to run as it always does,” said Rebecca Kleeman, spokeswoman for Millard Public Schools. “We will not let kids go hungry.”
Only a prolonged government shutdown would have the potential to affect meal services, she said.
The Omaha Public Schools also were prepared to cope, thanks to its nutrition fund reserves.
OPS receives monthly reimbursements of up to $2 million for subsidized breakfasts and lunches, but it can last five or six months without payments before the reserves are depleted, said spokesman Todd Andrews.
In Grand Island, the public school district also planned to take steps to ensure that children from low-income homes continued to get lunch, moving money from the school's general fund into its lunch fund.
“If I know our board, they're going to want to do anything and everything to make sure no kid goes unfed,” said Virgil Harden, executive director of business for the Grand Island district.
Federal courthouses also began to prepare contingency plans due to a lack of dollars.
The courthouses have enough cash to continue to operate normally until next Thursday or Friday. After that, workers will be asked to continue in their jobs without knowing exactly when they will get their next paycheck.
The plan is to keep all of the essential functions of the federal courts on track, with priority given to criminal trials. That means there will continue to be jury trials, bankruptcy proceedings and criminal hearings, said U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp, who is chief judge of the Nebraska federal district.
“We don't intend to have criminal cases dismissed because of speedy trial problems. We're going to continue to call juries,” said Camp.
The key question for federal workers is when — or if — they get paid.
The House of Representatives has passed a bill that calls for all furloughed federal workers to get their paychecks after the shutdown ends. The Senate has yet to act, although President Barack Obama has indicated support for the measure.
Camp said all the federal workers she has talked to expect to be on the job, even if their paychecks are delayed.
“It's very, very disheartening and it's very difficult to tell people who have devoted their lives to public service and the protection of the public that, because of a disagreement in Congress, they may not get paid or get paid on time,” Camp said.
The shutdown also began to have an impact on state agencies and programs that rely on federal funding for a significant part of their operations. As of Thursday, at least two state agencies have furloughed workers: the Nebraska National Guard and Nebraska Department of Labor.
Most state agencies so far have been able to manage by drawing on funds left from prior years or tapping other funding sources temporarily, said Gerry Oligmueller, the chief state budget officer for Nebraska.
State agency directors have told him that, in most cases, the shutdown won't become a major issue until the end of October.
“It's day to day,'' Oligmueller said. “At some point, it gets more difficult.''
For example, state officials have said food stamp recipients in Nebraska do not have to worry — for the time being. Programs such as food stamps and Aid to Dependent Children have enough money to continue for now, said Kathie Osterman, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
How long? Osterman would not hazard a guess.
“If we get to a point in time where we need to notify people, we'll do that,” she said.
Some agencies have less flexibility than others.
The Nebraska National Guard initially furloughed 630 workers last week, though most were brought back Monday after Congress passed a law to pay military personnel during the shutdown. But about 70 state employees who work in facilities management, the base fire department and security remain on furlough.
For farmers and ranchers, the shutdown has come with its own special problems.
Federal meat inspections were deemed an essential service, so inspectors continue to monitor meatpacking plants.
But federally funded market reports that help meatpackers determine prices paid to hog farmers and others have been stopped.
Tyson Fresh Meats, the world's largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork, is using a different formula-based pricing system to calculate prices, spokesman Worth Sparkman said.
Farmers and commodity markets also are in the dark about the size of this year's corn crop. The USDA earlier had estimated the harvest at 13.8 billion bushels. But because of the shutdown, updated harvest estimates have been suspended.
Hunters also have been affected. The shutdown closed more than 329 federal wildlife refuges to hunting, and more than 271 are shut for fishing, affecting local economies, according to national sportsman and conservation groups.
Leaders of seven major sportsman groups called on Congress this week to end the shutdown that has closed federal wildlife refuges, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management areas at the start of hunting seasons across the nation.
Omaha's Army Corps of Engineers district office remains open because it continues to manage the six big Missouri River dams in the northern Plains.
But the corps canceled five public meetings scheduled this week from Missouri to Montana to present the draft plan for operating the Missouri next year.
The shutdown could also prolong closure of the Omaha Public Power District's troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear plant near Omaha.
The plant has been offline since April 2011, and OPPD officials have been working with federal inspectors to address each corrective item on a long restart checklist.
Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut down part of its operations.
Fort Calhoun's two resident NRC inspectors, who monitor the plant's safety continuously, will remain on the job. But the special inspection teams that visit the plant periodically to mark its progress on the checklist will not.
The restart process could stall if OPPD has to wait for approval from those periodic inspection teams.
“We've probably got enough physical work to keep us busy for another week and a half, two weeks,” OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said. “After that, it could be a problem.”
World-Herald staff writers David Hendee, Henry J. Cordes, Cody Winchester, Erin Duffy, Joe Dejka and Emily Nohr contributed to this report.
House approves bill to fund border security efforts
House Republicans passed a stopgap bill Thursday to restore federal funding to border security that has been cut during the government shutdown.
Front-line immigration officers and border security agents are still on the job, but thousands of support staff members have been furloughed.
Bill to pay military death benefits is sent to Obama.
A bill to provide benefits for the families of fallen troops is heading to President Barack Obama.
By voice vote Thursday, the Senate approved a measure that would reinstate benefits for surviving family members, including funeral and burial expenses, and death gratuity payments.
Twenty-nine members of the military have died on active duty since the government shutdown began last week.
The Pentagon would reimburse the Fisher House Foundation, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday would cover the costs during the shutdown.
States get green light to reopen some national parks
The Obama administration said Thursday that it will allow states to use their own money to reopen some national parks.
Governors in at least four states have asked for authority to reopen national parks within their borders because of the economic impact caused by the park closures.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the government would consider offers to pay for park operations but would not surrender control of national parks or monuments to the states.
With winders on furlough, a Capitol clock stops ticking
The government shutdown talks are no longer being measured by the tick-tock-tick of the Capitol's most famous clock. The Ohio Clock has stood watch over the Senate for 196 years. It stopped running Wednesday.
Employees in the Office of the Senate Curator ordinarily wind the clock weekly. But they are among the thousands of federal employees furloughed under the partial shutdown.
— World-Herald press services