Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Waiting, unanswered questions as shutdown continues

Marcus White
Posted 1/10/19

REGIONAL —Come Monday, Sidra Starkovich may be on the lookout for a new source of income.

The Bois Forte grant manager is next in line to be laid off in a second phase of cuts by the tribe if …

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Waiting, unanswered questions as shutdown continues

Posted

REGIONAL —Come Monday, Sidra Starkovich may be on the lookout for a new source of income.

The Bois Forte grant manager is next in line to be laid off in a second phase of cuts by the tribe if the federal government shutdown doesn’t end soon.

“I am worried financially,” Starkovich said. “Luckily I am in a two-income household, but I have always counted that my job is secure.”

Even so, she fears other families could face a greater impact since both bread winners work for the tribe. Bois Forte staff are being furloughed in stages as the tribe grapples with the financial pressures caused by an interruption of crucial federal funding. It’s an example of how the impact of the federal government shutdown is reaching well beyond the 800,000 federal workers who have been sidelined, or are being forced to work without pay, since President Trump refused to sign spending bills that would fund a long list of agencies. They include Customs and Border Patrol, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Forest Service.

More impacts are likely on the way, as funding for programs like SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is relying on fund balances to provide the food assistance that tens of millions of Americans rely on. President Trump is saying he might allow the shutdown to last for months, or even years, unless he gets a $5.7 billion down payment on his border wall.

“I’m worried for neighbors who may need to apply for assistance through SNAP, which may also get shut because of the shutdown,” Starkovich said. “I’m worried about how we are going to bounce back from all of this. There’s not a lot of work around here to go around.”

To cope with an impending layoff, Starkovich said she will need a week or so to take stock of her situation. She said this is the first time in 20 years she will be unemployed and navigating what assistance is available to her will be a new experience.

She said, though, if she’s out of work a month or more, she may need to reconsider whether returning to her job with the tribe is the best fit for her and her family.

“It’s not because I am giving up on my reservation or my employer,” she said. “It’s because I can’t afford it. I don’t want to live on unemployment, I want to work.”

Speaking to The New York Times earlier this month, Bois Forte Chairwoman Cathy Chavers said the tribe may have to reduce to “minimal, minimal basic services” if the shutdown lasts through the end of January.

Already, tribal police officers are working without pay, and an all-staff meeting of tribal employees was to have taken place on Wednesday morning this week. As of press time, the results of that meeting were not made public. Chavers did not return messages left with the Timberjay as of press time.

Timber industry

While Bois Forte navigates its way through a loss of funding, the logging industry is faring better - for now.

Winter is the busiest logging season in the northeastern Minnesota, and Ray Higgins with the Minnesota Timber Producers Association said the Forest Service is allowing logging operations on federal lands to continue, but only on sales underway before the shutdown began in December.

“It’s hard to say how long the shutdown would have to persist before an impact would be felt,” Higgins said. “If this keeps going, they won’t be able to award any more bids. Prepping activities for new sales could be affected.”

Were the shutdown to linger into the spring, companies who bid on federally-owned land could be shut out of some logging contracts for next year.

Higgins said, however, right now the focus is on this season and the challenge of trying to fight through a more present concern— warm weather.

It’s too early to know how much unseasonably warm temperatures the past few weeks will affect the annual harvest, but Higgins said they’re waiting for sustained colder temps to arrive.

“The roads go in and out of the woods, the harder they get, the easier it is to haul the timber out of the woods,” he said. “We need a good cold snap to solidify that.”

National parks, Forest Service

Voyageurs National Park does remain open, for now, with limited park services being offered by the park’s non-profit association. The park’s Green Trail, a popular lake trail, was staked prior to the shutdown, but other lake trails are unmarked and largely being left ungroomed. Grooming by nonprofit snowmobile clubs outside the park is well underway because those efforts don’t require federal funding.

Calls to the LaCroix Ranger District in Cook all went unanswered, with voicemail messages indicating the offices were closed indefinitely. Superior Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins directed the Timberjay to the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, but that phone line appeared to be out of order.

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