EAGLE COUNTY — Cal Wettstein was working for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon the last time many federal workers got “go home” orders due to a partial shutdown of the federal government. That was in 1995. He sympathizes with the people on the ground — folks who are just trying to get their work done.
Back then, Wettstein — who today is retired from the Forest Service and is now working for Habitat for Humanity — had a home and a family to keep going. Missing a couple of paychecks — the shutdown lasted nearly a month — was a worry.
“We did OK, but the people it was hard on were those who were close to the margins,” Wettstein said.
Here in the high country, a lot of us live paycheck-to-paycheck lives or something close to it. It’s always been that way. During the 1995 shutdown, Alpine Bank announced it would provide interest-free loans to federal workers to help cover those immediate expenses. On Friday, bank officials announced they would do the same thing this year.
Up to $13 Million available
In separate press events across the Western Slope, bank officials unveiled plans to make up to $13 million available to furloughed federal employees. Alpine Bank Regional President Glenn Davis said employees don’t have to be current bank customers to take advantage of the program.
“Federal representatives don’t understand the impact their actions have on communities,” Davis said.
How to apply
Davis said bank officials are going to make the loan program as simple as possible. Federal employees will have to bring in their last pay statement, identification and submit to a quick credit check.
That last step is “just so we can verify people are who they say they are,” Davis said.
Michael Brown, president of the bank’s Avon branch, said he expects people will be able to get their loans the same day they apply.
While Congress argues over whether or not to provide back pay to furloughed workers, Davis said people who take out loans will be given some time to repay their loans if needed.
Bank ready for many loans
Back in 1995, roughly 1,300 people took advantage of the Alpine program. Davis said he expects many more people to participate this time around.
“We were only about 20 percent the size were are now back then,” Davis said. Since that shutdown, Alpine has expanded into Steamboat Springs, Durango, Telluride, Gunnison and Montrose, all places surrounded by acres of federally-managed land, as well as a national park — Black Canyon near the Gunnison. That means there are potentially many more people who work for various federal agencies who might need some help over the next few weeks.
Davis said he hoped the program would only be needed to get people through one pay period, but said the bank is in good enough shape to underwrite more loans if needed.
Effect on Vail Resorts
With Congress seemingly deadlocked, it’s hard to tell how long the current shutdown might last or what effects that might have.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said in the company’s Oct. 27 earnings conference call that the company’s Epic Discovery summer recreation project at Vail was still waiting on Forest Service approval. During that call, Katz said he expected to have an initial go-ahead on the project by November. If the shutdown lasts much longer, though, those plans may change.
In response to an emailed question, Vail Resorts Vice President of Corporate Communications Kelly Ladyga wrote, “We are not anticipating any impact from the shutdown, but that could change if it dragged on for a very extended period of time.”
Department of Education
Similarly, the Colorado Department of Education isn’t expecting much immediate impact on its programs. A statement from the department indicated that if the shutdown lasts a week or less, state programs should be fine. If the shutdown lingers, as it did in 1995, it’s unclear what program funding might still be available.
And it’s the uncertainty that’s both aggravating and maddening.
While Wettstein and his family made it through the 1995 shutdown, he said it was still a tense time for them.
“It’s tough. You’ve got to be thinking about everything you’re spending every day,” he said. “There’s just a lot of unknowns.”