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Lawmakers aim to minimize impact of shutdown on flood fight

WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar was scheduled to be on the banks of the Red River of the North today, inspecting flood control efforts and using the resulting information to push federal agencies for as much help as possible for residents of northwest Minnesota.

Instead, hours before the federal government was due to shut down for lack of a budget, Klobuchar stood beside a group of women Democratic senators in a room just off the Senate floor, packed to the rafters with reporters, TV cameras and staff, talking about the shutdown that may or may not come.

“There are students out of school, there are seniors standing by that river and that’s where I should be today, and that’s where my colleagues [in North Dakota and Minnesota] should be,” Klobuchar said. “How do you think people feel if they don’t even know if the federal government is going to be in business tomorrow?”

“That is just wrong.”

The message late this week has been a mix of outrage and bewilderment that Congress has even come to this point, combined with attempts to reassure people in Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Hendrum, Perley, Halstad and points north that they wouldn’t be abandoned in a fight against the ever-rising waters.

Army Corps of Engineers officials told the Associated Press that about 200 staffers in the St. Paul district will keep fighting the floods during a shutdown, and federal officials tell MinnPost that the flood is considered an emergency that would allow work to continue there. 

“FEMA’s going to be fully operational,” Klobuchar said, “but what we’re concerned about is if there is flooding, and people have their paperwork, you know, they put claims in and things, we’re very concerned that that’ll be slowed down, as well as the operations of government.” 

“If the government shuts down, it’s very hard to get the president and everyone else to focus on North Dakota and Minnesota, so that’s my concern, it’ll be a matter of focus,” Klobuchar said. “It’s harder to get that focus on that we have an emergency and we may need emergency funding, things like that, that’s what scares me.”

Lawmakers are also trying to minimize the impact to residents who might call their offices for assistance, despite a rule that they must furlough all “non-essential” employees. 

Sen. Al Franken will furloug most of his staffers, but keep on senior advisers and case workers “who are providing emergency assistance to those affected by the flooding in the northwest.”

“Our most urgent priority is keeping the Moorhead office open during the floods,” said Klobuchar spokesman Linden Zakula, “but we will be furloughing employees in Minnesota and Washington because everyone is going to have to do their part.”

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