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Fairchild deals with the federal shutdown; plus, the roll-out of Obamacare

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Fallout 

Nearly 550 civilian and non-active duty military employees at Fairchild Air Force Base faced immediate furloughs Tuesday as the base halted all non-essential services in response to the government shutdown.

Military officials report about 300 civilian Department of Defense employees and 248 inactive Air National Guard members had received furlough notices by Tuesday afternoon.

All active-duty personnel and “excepted” civilian employees will continue to report for work. Base officials emphasize emergency, security and mission-essential operations will not be interrupted. However, the base commissary, library, teen center and other services expected to close until further notice.

“The government shutdown is extremely disruptive to the Air Force and Fairchild operations,” a news release states, “but our 24/7 mission will continue unabated.”

Non-excepted DOD employees placed on “emergency, no-notice, no-pay” furloughs will not receive retroactive back pay for missed days without later approval from Congress. Fairchild Air Force Base serves as the largest employer in Spokane County.

Greater Spokane Incorporated President Rich Hadley says civilian employees make up about 20 percent of the Fairchild workforce. He says any local economic impact will likely depend on how long the shutdown lasts.

“We have a lot of federal employees in this region,” Hadley says, adding, “We already have sequestration. … It’s really unfortunate.”

— JACOB JONES

Technical Difficulties

Washington’s online marketplace where consumers can compare and shop for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act went live on Tuesday, but not without a few hiccups.

Users reported problems loading the exchange website wahealthplanfinder.org and completing their applications, forcing officials to take down the site shortly after it debuted at 7:30 am. By 2:30 Tuesday afternoon, the site was back online, but loading very slowly.

Deanna Davis, the executive director of Better Health Together, a nonprofit organization leading Eastern and North Central Washington’s network of in-person support services, says technical glitches on the first day of open enrollment should have been expected.

“Just be patient,” she says, “and call us.”

If you’re having difficulties using the Healthplanfinder website, you can call Better Health Together at 1-800-819-2993 to set up an appointment with a trained “in-person assister” who can help you weigh your options and sign up for insurance through the exchange.

Open enrollment ends in March 2014 and plans won’t take effect until January. In the meantime, don’t be fooled by copycat websites.

— DEANNA PAN

Kindergarten Line

Dozens of parents camped overnight outside Prairie View Elementary Monday night, hoping to snag a kindergarten spot for their sons and daughters. This isn’t the first time spots have been in such high demand.

“This has been going on for at least three years,” says Jared Hoadley, executive director of student services for the Mead School District. About 30 parents lined up outside the school at 4:30 pm Monday, according to KREM, ready to wait until 8 am the next morning for 2014’s kindergarten registration at the school.

Hoadley says Spokane County projections originally indicated the elementary would be about half full when it opened in 2007. Instead, it was completely full. In the last decade, the Five Mile area has boomed, as developments have popped up in the once rural community.

“There were more students than anybody anticipated,” Hoadley says. “We run over 600 students.” There are 80 slots for kindergarten students, but because children with siblings already attending Prairie View get priority, around 40 slots have already been taken. Kindergartners in the Prairie View boundaries who don’t get a spot will be bused to other elementary schools in the district. They’ll get a chance next year to apply for first grade at Prairie View, but even that won’t be guaranteed.

Hoadley says the Prairie View principal arrived early in the morning to deliver donuts and coffee to the campers. The district knows it has to do something about the growth in the Prairie View area.

“We probably will have to run a bond to build another facility,” Hoadley says. “There’s a current facilities review committee looking at that very issue.”

— DANIEL WALTERS

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