Day 2 Of Government Shutdown Affects Variety Of Workers

Oct 2, 2013
Originally published on October 2, 2013 7:09 am

Some federal employees have to work despite the closure, while others have been told not to report to work. On Morning Edition, we hear some voices of folks who have already felt the impact of the shutdown. They say they feel "frustrated," and think the partial shutdown is "ridiculous."

And, many states are scrambling to figure out a way to keep the doors open at the clinics that administer food assistance to 9 million women, infants and children. They are enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and children, known as WIC. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds the program, explained Friday in a memo, the 10,000 WIC clinics across the country will have enough funds to operate for a week or so. And after that, the states most in need may be able to get something from the federal pot of $125 million in contingency funding. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

In Missouri, the main reason for living in Knob Noster, is to work at Whiteman Air Force Base. That's where B-2 Stealth bombers are based, and nuclear weapons are stored. With parts of the federal government closed, some 600 workers at the base are temporarily out of a job. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports the base is short handed because of the government shutdown.

Across the country, the federal government's partial shutdown means National Parks are closed for business. How are visitors, nearby businesses and park rangers dealing with the shutdown at Mt. Rainier and Crater Lake National Parks? Tom Banse of the Northwest News Network reports visitors are being turned away.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

This may be a moment to appreciate federal employees, often dismissed as bureaucrats. They're the targets of frustration, and they only make headlines when something goes wrong.

MONTAGNE: Yet many also steadily serve their country, some risk their lives. And if you travel overseas, you quickly encounter places where people can only wish to have a government that functions so well. Today, hundreds of thousands of those workers are off the job while 535 of their bosses continue a standoff.

Those affected include Mike Trenchard(ph), at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Sighing) I'm frustrated with my Congress. I'm one of the lucky ones that's going to be continuing to work. Most of my colleagues won't be there, so it's going to be kind of a lonely place.

DOUGLAS GREENAWAY: Absolute frustration. My name is Heather Pizamelio. I'm an analyst for the Department of the Navy. We got hit with the sequestration. Now we're on furlough and I'm - I don't know what to expect. I'm a conservative, so speaking to my conservative Hill members - stop messing around and stop putting us at risk.

ABBY RAY HYDE: Shame on them. Shame on the U.S. Congress. Shipyarders got thick skin. You know? I mean we understand, it's the politics of it all. But it's unfortunate that we're being used as political pawns in this game.

MONTAGNE: And that shipyarder was John Joyo of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

INSKEEP: And let's hear some effects of the shutdown, starting with NPR food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: On day number two of the federal government shutdown, many states are scrambling to figure out a way to keep the doors open at the clinics that administer food assistance to nine million women, infants and children enrolled in the so-called WIC Program.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good morning, WIC. Ms. Williams.

AUBREY: The clinic we spoke to was operating normally. And for now this seems to be true nationwide. You see, the way it works is that Congress authorizes the funding for WIC and then states receive federal grants to run the program. But with the government shut down, states will have to use leftover funds to keep the clinics open.

GREENAWAY: It's a huge challenge, obviously.

AUBREY: That's Douglas Greenaway of the National WIC Association. He says if the shutdown continues, women enrolled in the program in some states could temporarily lose the roughly $45 per month they receive in vouchers, which cover essential healthy foods.

GREENAWAY: It is very possible that in the coming weeks, some states will find themselves unable to serve WIC participants coming through the door.

AUBREY: For instance, it's being reported that Utah will not enroll new participants in the WIC program. And Greenaway says for states that have already spent all their grant money, the federal government does have some contingency funds available that could help temporarily. But he says to keep the doors open Congress needs to act soon.

GREENAWAY: When Congress fails to act to fund programs like the WIC program, it just places vulnerable women and children in very precarious positions.

AUBREY: People such as Abby Ray Hyde(ph) of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She told us that she's relied on WIC food vouchers since her daughter was born. And she says there's no way she could afford to buy all the wholesome foods she gets through the WIC Program.

HYDE: Milk, cereal, eggs, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables - you know, everything costs so much these days.

AUBREY: Abby said when she heard about the shutdown, and that her vouchers may be threatened...

HYDE: I thought to myself: Congress, they just don't understand for low-income families, we really, really, really need this for children.

AUBREY: That's the message Abby Ray Hyde wants to deliver to Washington.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: I'm Frank Morris, standing here in the middle of Missouri at Whiteman Air Force Base, home of the B2 Stealth bomber - the scary looking, bat-like plane that can strike anywhere in the world with nuclear or conventional weapons. And today this base is short-handed.

CAPTAIN JOHN SEVERNS: We're going to see impacts all across the base as a result of the government shutdown.

MORRIS: Air Force Captain John Severns says at least 500 civilians have been furloughed here, almost half of them National Guard technicians, some of whom maintain those extremely pricey and lethal Stealth bombers.

SEVERNS: So we are going to be losing some of our maintainers, some of our munitions folks, people that we rely on on a day-to-day basis to conduct this mission.

MORRIS: And many of these same employees are just coming off unpaid leave forced on them by the sequester. Joe Joyner(ph), a civilian manager here, is one of them.

JOE JOYNER: We've already gone through six days of unpaid furlough in the last few months. And here we are back in the same situation again. The only difference is, now we don't know how long it's going to be.

MORRIS: Active duty military are still on the job. But all the civilians in Joyner's department are furloughed. And without them, airmen can't get the services they expect.

JOYNER: Yes, our military guys are going to be working, but it's the civilians that are being laid off that help them to be able to focus on their jobs.

MORRIS: The effects of the shutdown spread across Whiteman. Crowds descended on the base grocery store like hurricane refugees after word got out that it was closing indefinitely. Kayla Gaurholz is standing with a packed cart in a checkout line snaking to the back of the store.

KAYLA GAURHOLZ: Yes. It's not that much fun just standing, but since the inconvenience of the store closing, and we're not, you know, we don't have it for God knows how long - so yeah, it's not the nicest situation.

MORRIS: People in Knob Noster, Missouri, the little town jammed up against the base, aren't happy either. Linda Miller runs Miller and Sons Barbeque Restaurant, which opened this spring in an old post office that had been empty for years.

LINDA MILLER: Well, it makes us feel a little frustrated. A new business always has a lot of costs starting up and that will impact us. If we can't make those costs, then like many of the other businesses in this area, we could be forced to shut down.

MORRIS: All Miller can do is watch as the government shutdown ripples through this and other military towns and anxiously wait for Congress to break the impasse.

TOM BANSE, BYLINE: I'm Tom Banse at the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. I'm at what normally is the busiest gateway to one of the icons of the other Washington, the state, but apparently news travels fast. The lone park ranger over there at the gate has long breaks between having to deliver bad news.

SARA BATEMAN: Hi, good morning. How are you doing today?

BANSE: Good. Can I go in the park?

BATEMAN: Unfortunately, Mount Rainier National Park is closed down due to government shutdown and we will remain closed until the government reopens.

BANSE: Park Ranger Sara Bateman has seen a lot of disappointment. Visitors who straggle past my vantage point said they'd heard about the impending shutdown but hoped it hadn't hit the parks yet and maybe they could still get that hike in. But no, all national parks closed right away. There are more than 400 of them. The large parks like this one are keeping a skeleton crew on duty to patrol and to maintain roads and historic buildings.

Guests at hotels and campgrounds inside the parks have been told to leave by Thursday. Motels, restaurants and vendors just outside the parks are seeing business dry up too. Kimberlee Tkach manages the Gateway Inn near Mount Rainier.

KIMBERLEE TKACH: I think it's ridiculous. The government doesn't seem to understand that when they do things like this, it really affects us small people.

BANSE: It's not just a big pain for small businesses. Take, for example, the students and teachers at the Metropolitan Learning Center. That's an alternative public school in Portland, Oregon. For the last half year, they've been planning a multi-day field trip to Crater Lake National Park. But it turned out to coincide with the start of the federal shutdown.

NED HASCALL: It's a resource for everybody to use and yet we're thwarted at the 11th hour. So it's pretty frustrating.

BANSE: Teacher Ned Hascall says the trip can't be rescheduled easily.

HASCALL: After this date, the snow starts to fall. It's too risky to take children up there any later in the season.

BANSE: Hascall says that 104 students and about 45 adults are determined to salvage what they can of their planned trip. They moved their base camp to a state park in Southern Oregon. He says the shutdown is causing the 4th, 5th and 6th graders to learn a lot more about the different branches of government.

HASCALL: This is gonna really change the scope of our study maybe and change it to looking at the federal government.

BANSE: Hascall says he's not joking when he suggests maybe another good learning experience would be to hold a protest at the closed park entrance. For NPR News, I'm Tom Banse in Olympia, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.