WASHINGTON >> A U.S. government shutdown amid a congressional dispute over spending and immigration has forced scores of federal agencies and outposts to close their doors and triggered furloughs for Air Force civilian employees but won’t keep Lady Liberty shackled.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, closed since the government shut down Friday, will reopen for visitors Monday, with New York state picking up the tab for the federal workers who operate them, the state’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, said Sunday.
The sites had been turning away visitors due to what the National Park Service described as “a lapse in appropriations,” a bureaucratic term for a lack of money. In Philadelphia, crowds of tourists were told Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed, and the Liberty Bell were closed.
The shuttered icons were some of the easiest-to-spot impacts of the partial government closure. Funds ran out at midnight Friday, leaving 48 hours before the most dramatic effect — the furloughing of nearly 1 million federal employees — takes place.
Government workers were struggling with the uncertainty that comes with not knowing when or if they will get paid, union leaders said.
J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers, said Sunday he was fielding hundreds of emails every hour from worried employees.
“That level of concern is higher than it’s ever been,” Cox said. “If your take home pay is averaging $500 a week, you’re living payday to payday, and if all of a sudden that payday doesn’t show up, you can’t pay for child care, you can’t buy groceries.”
Cox said he has told his members to report to work Monday and await instructions from the agency they work for about whether they will be sent home or continue to work.
The shutdown scuttled plans for a National Guard training exercise at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and created uncertainty for the Army base’s civilian employees and local businesses. At Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, it meant furloughs for about 500 civilians starting Saturday.
Fayetteville, North Carolina, businesses worried the shutdown could affect them if furloughed Fort Bragg employees have to reduce their discretionary spending.
Darrick King, owner of Yadkin Road Hand Car Wash & Detail, told the Fayetteville Observer many of his clients are from Fort Bragg. He said he hopes for a quick resolution from Washington, D.C., but if there isn’t, “It will damage me severely.”
As in past shutdowns, federal services were carved into two categories, essential and non-essential, with the essential services set to carry on as normal. In that category, the mail will be delivered and Social Security checks still go out, the air traffic control system stays up and running, as do the FBI, Customs and Border Protection and veterans hospitals.
Still, there were plenty of inconveniences to irk American taxpayers.
While active-duty troops will stay at their posts during a shutdown, people stationed overseas were touched by the political fallout almost immediately.
The American Forces Network, which broadcasts American radio and television programming outside the U.S. and uses civilian government employees, initially said its services would not be available, sparking angry reactions from viewers eager to see the NFL playoffs Sunday. Later, though, the Department of Defense said even though the civilian employees were furloughed two of AFN’s eight channels, one for news and one for sports, would remain on.
Senate moderates in both major political parties expressed hopes of finding a way out of the government shutdown mess on Sunday while their leaders played the blame game. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they were pursuing a deal to reopen the government before the start of the workweek Monday. In exchange for Democratic votes, Republican leaders would agree to address immigration policy in the coming weeks. But nothing had been agreed to, lawmakers said Sunday, and there were no indications that leaders of either party or the White House were on board.
In New York, the governor said the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are vital to the state’s tourism industry and couldn’t remain closed. He said the state will spend about $65,000 a day to keep them open, with the revenue gained more than offsetting the costs.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home, historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and the visitor center at MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta were closed. And Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park and other federally managed natural areas in Florida were partially closed.
But the shutdown wasn’t knocking Old Ironsides out of commission. The USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship, was to remain open to tourists during the shutdown at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.