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Fed shutdown hits Idaho campgrounds, courts, National Guard, WIC program…

Federal campgrounds and picnic areas have shut down across Idaho, the AP reports, due to the government shutdown forced by Congress' inability to pass a spending bill by a midnight deadline to keep the government functioning. Court cases are slowing down, 850 Idaho National Guard employees are being furloughed and banned from reporting for duty until the shutdown is lifted, and 16 of the 19 workers at Craters of the Moon National Monument - where a search is under way for a missing hiker - were put on furlough today. Meanwhile, 42,500 pregnant women, infants and children stand to lose supplemental nutrition benefits as the WIC program runs out of money; it has enough carry-over fund to last only about a week. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Shutdown means Idaho campsites close, court slows
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. government shutdown that began Tuesday has closed federal campgrounds in Idaho, prompted the furlough of 850 National Guard employees, and threatened a program that helps cover food costs for impoverished pregnant women and small children.

U.S. District Court in Boise has enough funding to continue hearing cases for the next 10 business days if Congress doesn't resolve the budget impasse.

But the effect of a shutdown on other governmental agencies — and on participants in court cases — could mean that some cases are put on hold anyway. And if the lack of funding is extended beyond 10 business days, the court will look at what changes in functions or schedules are needed.

U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said about half of her staff had been furloughed, and attorneys were expecting to file motions to temporarily halt court proceedings in environmental lawsuits, tort cases and other civil matters.

The asset forfeiture unit — which helps federal prosecutors recover proceeds from drug trafficking and other crimes to help repay crime victims — is also stalled for now.

In eastern Idaho, 16 of the 19 workers at Craters of the Moon National Monument were set Tuesday to begin furloughs, prompting the family of missing hiker Jo Elliott-Blakeslee to issue a plea for more volunteers, the Idaho Statesman reported. Ted Stout, chief of interpretation and education for the monument, said four searchers scoured the monument for the missing woman Monday; Tuesday morning, after the shutdown went into effect, there were none.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service said regional offices were operating with minimal staffing to ensure essential services, but developed campgrounds and picnic areas across the state were being closed.

About half of the Idaho National Guard's 1,700 employees will take furloughs and were banned from reporting to duty until the shutdown is lifted, said Col. Tim Marsano, spokesman for the National Guard.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan said roughly 42,500 pregnant women, infants and children who receive food benefits under the WIC program may lose benefits next week if the shutdown continues. Benefits were continuing for now only because the program had enough carry-over funds to last about a week, Shanahan said.

"They're monitoring it on a day-to-day basis right now," he said. "So on Monday, if it isn't resolved by then, then they would have to quit issuing vouchers and ask vendors not to accept vouchers after that."

During the past fiscal year, the average WIC recipient in Idaho got about $53 worth of vouchers a month. That money could be used toward certain foods such as breakfast cereal, milk and baby formula. The program is designed to help ensure that pregnant women and children get the nutrition they need for adequate growth and brain development.

If the shutdown continues, local health districts will work to connect WIC recipients with local assistance programs when possible, Shanahan said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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