Wildfire Debris Removal, FEMA Relief Programs to Continue During Government Shutdown

The work is covered by a federal Disaster Relief Fund that does not depend on congressional action at this time.

by Guy Kovner, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif. / January 21, 2018

(TNS) - Debris removal and other post-fire recovery programs in Sonoma County will continue in the wake of the federal government shutdown, which will have no major immediate impact on Sonoma County, officials said Friday.

The shutdown will have no impact on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees or government contractors engaged in hauling away tons of ash and debris from the October wildfires, said Nancy Allen, a Corps of Engineers spokeswoman.

The work is covered by a federal Disaster Relief Fund that does not depend on congressional action at this time, she said.

Wildfire debris removal had “ramped up” during the week and will continue to expand next week, Allen said.

There were 70 crews in the field Friday and work will continue over the weekend, with 90 crews scheduled to work starting Monday, she said.

Disaster relief programs run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also continue, funded by the same source, said Frank Mansell, a FEMA spokesman.

“There will be no interruption in our work in the North Bay,” he said.

People with questions about their applications for FEMA assistance can get help online at or by calling 800-621-3362.

The John F. Shea Federal Building in Santa Rosa will remain open next week, but some offices may be affected by the shutdown.

North Bay recreational spots will remain accessible through the weekend, with boat ramps, campgrounds and other facilities open at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, both managed by the Corps of Engineers.

But if the shutdown continues into next week, all visitor facilities “will go under lock and key,” said Nick Malasavage, chief of operations and readiness at the corps office in San Francisco.

Dam operations will not be impacted by the shutdown, he said.

Roads and trails at Point Reyes National Seashore on the Marin County coast will remain open, along with vault toilets at many trailheads, but there will be no visitor services, such as restrooms, trash collection or public information there or at national parks nationwide.

During the last government shutdown in 2013, closure of parks and national monuments created an uproar, according to a National Public Radio report.

The shutdown’s economic impact on Sonoma County will be minimal, assuming it is short-lived, said Robert Eyler, a Sonoma State University economics professor.

There are only 1,300 federal employees in the county’s workforce, amounting to less than 1 percent of the total of 211,000 wage earners. Even if some of them are furloughed during the shutdown they will eventually be compensated, Eyler said.

“We don’t have a major federal presence in Sonoma County,” he said.

Eyler said he is not aware of any major federal construction contracts in the county and if there were any, the funding would already have been authorized.

“Washington, D.C. is going to be like a ghost town,” Eyler said, identifying the nation’s capital as the area hardest hit by a shutdown.

If the shutdown were to last a month or more, it might impact federal grant funding to local nonprofits, he said.

“I think they will hammer out a deal (to end the shutdown),” Eyler said, referring to federal lawmakers. Democrats might let a shutdown linger “to put a pinch on (President Donald) Trump,” he said.

Key government functions, including active military operations, mail delivery, issuance of Social Security checks, air traffic control, airport security and federal court operations, will continue.

During the 16-day shutdown in October 2013, the largest direct cost to the federal budget and the economy was about $2 billion in pay to federal employees for work not done while they were furloughed, according to an Executive Office of the President report the following month.

About 850,000 employees — 40 percent of the civilian workforce — were furloughed per day in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, the report said. Workers received the pay retroactively.

Among the impacts cited in the report:

Head Start centers serving about 6,300 children were closed for up to nine days.

Federal research activities were brought to a standstill.

Environmental Protection Agency inspections at about 1,200 sites were halted.

The National Park Service lost about $7 million in fee revenue and $500 million in visitor spending around parks.

Consumer confidence levels slumped and 2 out of 5 Americans said they would reduce their spending.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.


©2018 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

Visit The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.