Friday, October 11, 2013 5:56 pm
Shutdown impact: Some national parks could reopen
By The Associated Press
The shutdown has had far-reaching consequences for some but minimal impact on others. Mail is being delivered. Social Security and Medicare benefits continue to flow. But the shutdown has been particularly harsh on those who rely on tourism, such as communities near the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks.
A look at how services have been affected, and sometimes not, by Congress failing to reach an agreement averting a partial government shutdown:
Federal air traffic controllers remain on the job and airport screeners continue to funnel passengers through security checkpoints. Furloughs of safety inspectors had put inspections of planes, pilots and aircraft repair stations on hold, but the Federal Aviation Administration says it is asking 800 employees - including some safety inspectors - to return to work this week. More than 2,900 inspectors had been furloughed. The State Department continues processing foreign applications for visas and U.S. applications for passports, since fees are collected to finance those services. Embassies and consulates overseas remain open and are providing services for U.S. citizens abroad.
Social Security and Medicare benefits continue to be paid out, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications. The Social Security Administration is also delaying the announcement of the size of next year's cost-of-living adjustment, which was supposed to come out on Oct. 16. Unemployment benefits are also still going out.
Federal courts, which have been using fees and other funds to operate since the shutdown began, will likely have enough money to operate until Oct. 17, and possibly Oct. 18.
After that, the courts will run out of money and shut down all nonessential work.
A limited number of workers would perform essential work, while all others would be furloughed. Each court would make a determination on what is essential and nonessential. Judges would still be able to seat jurors, but the jurors won't be paid until Congress provides funding. Court-appointed lawyers would also not get paid.
The Supreme Court opened its term Monday and says its business will go on despite the ongoing shutdown. The Supreme Court announced Thursday it would stay open through Friday, Oct. 18, including hearing two days of arguments next week.
All national parks have been closed since the shutdown began, but the Obama administration said Thursday it would allow states to use their own money to reopen some national parks.
Utah is the first state to take up the offer, and national parks located there are expected to open Saturday. Colorado also reached agreement to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park. But several states say they are unlikely to participate.
Figures compiled by a coalition of retired park service workers indicate that some 700,000 people a day would have been visiting the parks and that the surrounding areas are losing $76 million in visitor spending per day.
In Washington, monuments along the National Mall have been closed, as have the Smithsonian museums, including the National Zoo. Among the visitor centers that have closed: the Statue of Liberty in New York, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Alcatraz Island near San Francisco.
National wildlife refuges were closed to hunters and fishermen just as hunting season was getting underway in many states. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service said late Friday that it's reopening several wildlife refuges, mostly in the Midwest, to allow pheasant and duck hunting.
Several protection agencies have curtailed their work.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut down most operations on Thursday. However, resident inspectors will remain on the job and any immediate safety or security matters will be handled.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they can handle recalls and high-risk foodborne outbreaks, but discovering them will be more difficult because many of the people who investigate outbreaks have been furloughed. Routine food safety inspections were suspended, so most food manufacturers won't have to worry about periodic visits from government inspectors. U.S. food inspections abroad have also been halted. USDA inspectors are on the lines every day in meatpacking plants and are required to be there by law for the plants to stay open.
The National Transportation Safety Board is not investigating most transportation accidents, making an exception only if officials believe lives or property are in danger. The agency suspended 1,500 investigations that were underway before the shutdown. Nor has the board collected information on or sent investigators to the scene of 20 accidents involving U.S.-manufactured aircraft that have occurred around the globe since Sept. 30.
Auto recalls and investigations of safety defects have been put on hold during the partial government shutdown. The public can still file safety complaints through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website, but no one has been investigating them in the new fiscal year. Manufacturers can still voluntarily recall vehicles, but major recalls are typically negotiated between the government and automakers.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is no longer screening products at ports of entry to prevent potentially dangerous ones from reaching store shelves, such as children's products containing excessive levels of lead.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, the shutdown means the agency can no longer certify whether vehicles meet emissions standards, delaying some new models from reaching car lots. New pesticides and industrial chemicals are also in limbo because the EPA has halted reviews of their health and environmental effects. And the nation's environmental police are no longer checking to see if polluters are complying with agreements to reduce their pollution.
New patients are generally not being accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, but current patients continue to receive care. NIH has made exceptions to allow 12 patients with immediately life-threatening illnesses - mostly cancer - into research studies at its renowned hospital. Normally, about 200 new patients every week enroll in studies at the NIH's research-only hospital, many of them after standard treatments have failed. Medical research at the NIH has been disrupted as some studies have been delayed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been severely limited in spotting or investigating disease outbreaks such as the flu or that mysterious MERS virus from the Middle East. The FDA has halted the review and approval of new medical products and drugs.
The impact of the shutdown on school districts, colleges and universities has been relatively minimal. Student loans have continued to be paid out. But school trips to national parks and museums have been canceled, and some university researchers have been unable to apply for grants or access government databases. Vocational rehabilitation programs helping adults with disabilities could begin to feel a pinch because these agencies receive 80 percent of their funding from the federal government.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will not investigate any charges of discrimination or respond to questions from the public during the shutdown. It will request delays in ongoing court proceedings and will not hold any hearings or mediations. The National Labor Relations Board, which investigates and remedies unfair labor practices, has virtually ceased to exist during the shutdown. More than 99 percent of its staff has been furloughed, postponing nearly every pending hearing, investigation and union election.
The Internal Revenue Service says more than 12 million taxpayers who filed for automatic extensions in the spring have tax returns due on Tuesday. Those returns, the agency says, are still due, regardless of the shutdown.
The IRS suspended all audits and will not be processing any tax refunds during the shutdown. Got questions? Sorry, IRS call centers will not be staffed, though automated lines are still running.
How well is the economy faring? That's harder to tell given the array of economic reports measuring the health of the nation's economy that have been postponed. The reports measure such things as monthly unemployment, inflation, imports and exports, and retail sales.
Some borrowers are finding it harder to close on their mortgages. The delays could worsen if the shutdown continues and possibly undercut the nation's housing recovery. Some lenders are having trouble confirming applicants' income tax returns and Social Security data due to government agency closures. Furloughs at the Federal Housing Administration are slowing the agency's processing of loans for some low- to moderate-income borrowers and first-time homebuyers. About 15 percent of new loans for home purchases are insured by the FHA. The Department of Housing and Urban Development won't be able to provide any additional payments to the nation's 3,300 public housing authorities during the shutdown, but those authorities should have enough money to continue providing rental assistance through the end of December.
The National Weather Service is forecasting weather and issuing warnings while the National Hurricane Center continues to track storms. The scientific work of the U.S. Geological Survey has been halted.
The FBI estimates that about 80 percent of its 35,000 employees are working and says it is prepared to meet any immediate threats. However, activities are suspended for other, longer-term investigations of crimes. Training and other support functions have been slashed.
The military's 1.4 million active-duty personnel remain on duty. About half of the Defense Department's civilian employees were furloughed, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered nearly all 350,000 back on the job. Congress has ensured $100,000 payments to families of fallen service members would continue, passing a bill signed by President Barack Obama on Thursday. The payments had been suspended during the shutdown, prompting the Fisher House Foundation to volunteer to make the payments until the program got up and running again.
The military has also stopped providing tuition assistance for service members taking college courses during off-duty hours.
Veterans are still able to get inpatient care at hospitals and mental health counseling at vet centers and outpatient clinics because Congress approved funding for VA health care programs one year in advance. Operators are also staffing the crisis hotline. The VA says its efforts to reduce the backlog in disability benefit claims have been stalled because claims processors are no longer being required to work 20 hours of overtime per month. Access to regional VA offices has been suspended, making it harder for veterans to get information about their benefits and the status of their claims. If the shutdown continues into late October, the VA warns that compensation and pension payments to veterans will be halted.
The CIA furloughed a "significant" but undisclosed number of workers when the shutdown began. A week later, CIA Director John Brennan said he would begin bringing back employees deemed necessary to the CIA's core missions of foreign intelligence collection, analysis, covert action and counterintelligence. He said continuing dramatically reduced staffing levels posed a threat to the safety of human life and the protection of property.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Sam Hananel, Joan Lowy, Matthew Daly, Frederic J. Frommer, Andrew Miga, Hope Yen, Deb Riechmann, Lauran Neergaard, Dina Cappiello, Pete Yost, Stephen Ohlemacher, Lolita C. Baldor, Jesse J. Holland, Seth Borenstein, Mary Clare Jalonick, Alicia A. Caldwell and Kim Hefling contributed to this report.