Federal Shutdown Is Hitting Close To Home

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With the federal government shutdown entering its second week and no immediate end in sight, the corresponding disruption of funding to a number of local entities has left a trail of interrupted services, with effects looming and others still dependent on the length of the ongoing stalemate in Washington, D.C.

A list compiled by U.S. Representative Tim Bishop’s office shows at least six local entities that have had to furlough workers, suspend activities or close their doors to visitors. Other organizations have thus far been buffered from the shutdown, the first of its kind in 17 years, though many still face an uncertain future.

The shutdown was prompted by an attempt by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to defund the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Tensions over the shutdown will only increase as the October 17 deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling continues to near.

On the first day of the shutdown, October 1, Jody DeMeyere, the visitor services manager to the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge, sent out a press release announcing the closure of Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Noyac, as well as four other Long Island refuges, as a result of the shutdown.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service … is very much aware that any lapse in appropriations imposes hardships on those we serve,” Ms. DeMeyere wrote. “Due to this event, the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex (including Amagansett, Elizabeth A. Morton, Oyster Bay, Target Rock and Wertheim National wildlife refuges) will be closed to the public. For programs experiencing a lapse in appropriated funding, only limited functions would continue, such as those necessary to respond to emergencies and to protect human life or property.”

Ms. DeMeyere also wrote that the public will not have access to trails, beaches and fishing holes, and public programs, such as the volunteer wood chip project and photography workshop, are canceled until further notice. She warned that if the closure continues into next week, the first scouting day and the first deer hunting session also will be called off.

Multiple attempts to reach Ms. DeMeyere, or anyone at the Morton Refuge, have been met with the following message: “I am out of the office for the duration of the government shutdown. I will not be checking messages, but will return your email upon my return to the office.”

In the world of academia, Stony Brook University professors—and all their counterparts at SUNY schools—who were awarded federal research grants will be unable to draw money from their accounts if any kind of review or approval is required. Also, new grant applications cannot be filed until the federal workforce returns.

And at the Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, nearly all of the 218 technicians of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing who had just recently been furloughed due to the sequester were back to being furloughed without pay. That situation changed, however, after Congress approved the “Pay Our Military Act” over the weekend—Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that a majority of personnel, including some civilian personnel, would return to work this week.

“I strongly support efforts in Congress to enact legislation to retroactively compensate all furloughed employees,” Mr. Hagel said in a statement. “And I will continue to urge Congress to fulfill its basic responsibilities to pass a budget and restore full funding for the Department of Defense and the rest of the government.”

On Plum Island, according to Mr. Bishop’s office, only “sensitive research or activities related to national security are exempt from the shutdown,” with workers “undoubtedly” being furloughed. The congressman’s office noted that 630 of the 650 employees of the agency directing the research facility—the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, which is the primary research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—have been sent home until further notice.

The list said that “only a skeleton crew is left to protect the island and perform critical maintenance.”

If middle ground is not found soon, other facilities looking at trouble include Calverton National Cemetery, which would have to furlough approximately 100 employees if a resolution is not reached by Tuesday, October 15, and Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, which had enough flexibility in its budget to remain open until Tuesday, but would likely shut down certain operations after that date.

On the upside, the U.S. Coast Guard Shinnecock Station has been up and running and will remain so now with the Pay Our Military Act being signed into law.

“Obviously, the shutdown has affected us in different ways, but we are still doing our job, we’re still getting paid, and we’ll be here to do our job no matter what,” said Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Omar Rose of the Shinnecock Station.

He went on to say that the ongoing shutdown will not change day-to-day operations and patrols for the Coast Guard, though the fiscal restraints are sure to be hindering “a lot of the big picture stuff above my pay grade. The effects, like the problems, are in D.C.,” he added.

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