Guardsmen Prevented from Assisting Due to Potential Government Shutdown
Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall today urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to ensure active duty National Guardsmen would be allowed to continue to assist Colorado communities rebuilding from the devastating floods in the event of a government shutdown next week. The senators requested that Secretary Hagel designate the guardsmen as exempt to prevent them from being furloughed.
The looming deadline for Congress to pass a bill that keeps the government open past September 30th is already slowing recovery efforts. The potential shutdown is preventing a group of 120 Utah National Guard engineers from traveling to Colorado to help rebuild U.S. Highway 36 and other state highways. Additionally, hundreds of Colorado Guardsmen already aiding recovery efforts may also be furloughed if Congress fails to act.
In a letter to Secretary Hagel, the senators wrote, “Sadly, the threat of a government shutdown has put [these] critical recovery projects on hold and delayed urgently needed road repair projects. Both Colorado and Utah National Guardsmen who were supposed to be mobilized this week have been delayed until after the current budget crisis is resolved because they have not been designated as ‘exempt personnel.’ While rescue efforts qualify for exemption, recovery work does not. Yet we will likely be rescuing more Coloradans and Americans from flood-isolated towns this winter if rebuilding is delayed any further.”
The recent floods damaged or destroyed more than 2,000 square miles over 17 counties on Colorado’s Front Range and tragically took the lives of several Coloradans. Thousands of homes have been destroyed or severely damaged, dozens of bridges have been ruined, and hundreds of miles of highways are in dire need of repair.
Bennet, Udall, and Colorado's members of the U.S. House of Representatives have worked since the flooding began to ensure Colorado communities and agencies have every federal resource they need to save lives, protect homes and start the recovery process. Yesterday, they introduced a bill that would lift the cap on emergency funds that can be used for infrastructure-related expenses, ensuring Coloradans had access to crucial resources for recovery efforts. That bill followed last week’s delegation effort urging the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to lift the cap. Bennet and Udall also welcomed the release of last week’s $30 million in emergency transportation funds.
Full text of the letter:
Dear Secretary Hagel:
We write to express our deep concern about a delay in mobilization for Colorado and Utah National Guardsmen working on recovery efforts following the tragic flooding in Colorado. We are requesting your immediate assistance to help avoid further delay.
As you know, Colorado has suffered an enormous amount of damage with the recent flooding. Nearly 20,000 homes were damaged or destroyed along with more than 200 miles of state highways and 50 state bridges leaving thousands of people dangerously isolated as winter approaches. Eight people have already died as a direct result of the floods, and many more lives hang in the balance as recovery personnel race to rebuild roads and restore essential services before winter.
Communities like Estes Park, Jamestown, and Lyons have been almost completely isolated by flood damage. Food and water, heating oil, medical supplies, and communications equipment can’t be delivered without major repairs to roads and bridges. Emergency medical care for these communities has been limited or cut off by the damage. The Colorado and Utah National Guard will provide critical engineering expertise to complete the urgent repairs quickly and safely.
Sadly, the threat of a government shutdown has put these critical recovery projects on hold and delayed urgently needed road repair projects. Both Colorado and Utah National Guardsmen who were supposed to be mobilized this week have been delayed until after the current budget crisis is resolved because they have not been designated as “exempt personnel.” While rescue efforts qualify for exemption, recovery work does not. Yet we will likely be rescuing more Coloradans and Americans from flood-isolated towns this winter if rebuilding is delayed any further.
We must have these engineers on station as quickly as possible and without disruption to their funding. We urge you to take immediate action to guarantee that funding for the National Guard disaster recovery mission in Colorado will not be interrupted in the event of a shutdown. We also request that the Utah National Guard engineering units be deployed to Colorado immediately to begin their vital mission.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.