With the federal government nearing a shutdown, federal offices and state agencies, some of which operate large federally supported programs, began to prepare today. The Associated Press reported that the Washington National Guard would have to furlough 1,000 federal technicians in such areas as aircraft and computer maintenance on Wednesday, but troops would remain on duty. The postal service will continue, since it relies on the revenues it generates rather than federal budget allocations. And the Affordable Care Act will begin to go into effect. Federal parks and recreational facilities will close immediately. — J.C.
Here's to your health
Washington’s online health care exchange will go live tomorrow, giving state residents their first opportunity to shop for and enroll in health insurance. "The Washington Health Care Exchange will be working tomorrow regardless of what happens in D.C.," said Gov Jay Inslee today. People wanting more information can call 1-855-923-4633 or go to www.WaHealthPlanFinder.org.
State healthcare exchanges are one of the cornerstones of the Affordable Care Act. Policies purchased on the exchange before Dec. 15 will go into effect on Jan. 1. Starting in 2014, Americans without health insurance (except for those exempt from the ACA) will face an annual penalty that ranges between $95 for an individual, to $285, or 1 percent of household income for a family. According to Washington Health Plan Finder, there are roughly 1 million uninsured residents in Washington State.
Meanwhile, if Congress partly shuts down the federal government, the immediate effects on Washington should be minimal, but would grow worse after a few days, Inslee said. Veterans training and the state employment security division, both heavily funded by the feds, will likely be hurt almost immediately, the governor said. Associated Press reported that unemployment checks in Washington can be issued this week but might end after that.
— B.L. & J.S.
Blowin' in the wind
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management took an initial step Monday toward selling wind leases in federal waters off the Oregon coast. Back in May, BOEM received a proposal for a commercial wind lease from Principle Power, Inc., a Seattle-based company specializing in wind energy projects in waters deeper than 120 feet. The bureau filed a notice in the Federal Register on Monday, describing the company’s proposed “WindFloat Pacific Project,” asking for public input about it and soliciting other proposals for offshore wind leases in the same area.
Principle Power received a $4 million Department of Energy grant in December 2012 to build a pilot wind-power project 16 miles west of Coos Bay. In order to move forward with the project, the company will need to secure a lease through the bureau. The project would include five, six-megawatt wind turbines, floating in waters that are approximately 1,200-feet deep. BOEM issued wind leases earlier this year for 549 acres of federal waters off the coast of Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia. If completed, those projects could generate enough power for 1.7 million homes. The public comment period for the Oregon proposal will last for the next 30 days. An in-depth description of the project can be found on Bureau of Energy Management's website. — B.L.
SeaTac ballot duel
Puget Sound Sage, a progressive think tank, late last week released its report on the effects of SeaTac's Prop. 1, which calls for raising the minimum wage to $15 for employees of large companies associated with the airport, transportation or hospitality industries. The Sage study predicts — predictably, since the group has been organizing for better pay of low-income workers — $40 million in gains for workers at relatively modest costs for employers and SeaTac Airport users. The study found that heavy passenger traffic means airport wage increases would be paid for with a combined increase of $1.78 per person on tickets, food and retail.
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