How US government shutdown is affecting citizens

By | October 3, 2013 10:38 am

Science was put on hold, normally bustling stores went quiet and families depending on government aid feared losing their baby food as a government shutdown rippled across the country.

The budget impasse in Washington shut all but essential U.S. government services for the second straight day on Wednesday, while neither political party appeared willing to budge.

Republicans want to tie continued government funding to measures that would undercut Obama’s signature healthcare law, while Obama and his Democrats say that is a non-starter.

Here are some snapshots of people affected across the United States.

Search for missing hiker defies shutdown

Some work was just too important to halt for Ted Stout, 50, even though he was furloughed Tuesday as park chief of interpretation and education at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in central Idaho. Wednesday marked his eighth day of searching for a missing hiker.

Stout said he and several other laid-off workers would keep combing the vast lava fields for 63-year-old Jo Elliot-Blakeslee on their own time, without pay and despite worsening weather.

“It’s pretty much consuming our lives. We can’t let her down now. This needs to continue,” said Stout, who has worked for 10 years at a National Park Service site that spans 750,000 acres (300,000 hectares) of volcanic rifts, cinder cones and underground tunnels carved by ancient lava flows.

At its height, the hunt for Elliot-Blakeslee and a companion found dead last week from exposure drew helicopters and up to 100 searchers but those efforts have been scaled back partly because of the government shutdown, Stout said.

“We’re just in a real unusual situation,” Stout said. “All we can do is keep looking.”

Living on the edge

Jocelyn Gonzalez, 22, is a stay-at home mother in Los Angeles who relies on assistance for her two young kids from Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a food voucher program the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it may not be able to fund if the shutdown lasts into late October.

Gonzalez’s husband, Alexis, works as a waiter and makes less than $1,000 a month, she said. Because of a lack of income, her family around the time the birth of her oldest child, Hazel, had to move from the working class Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles to a cheaper, higher-crime area south of downtown.

They started receiving WIC when Hazel was born, and with an infant daughter, Delilah, now part of their family they rely on the program’s coupons to get free milk, baby food, formula, fruits and vegetables, she said.

“There’s been times where we don’t have a lot of money but I have my coupons right there,” Gonzalez said.

If the WIC program runs out, Gonzalez said her options will be limited.

“We can’t afford daycare so I don’t know what I would do,” she said. “I can’t even imagine, because it helps us out a lot.”

Fast food solution

Myrna Pascual, 61, an analyst with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in San Diego, fears a U.S. government shutdown could force her to borrow against her home, increase her credit card use and possibly look for work at fast food restaurants.

“I would do that just to get by, because I’m not saved up,” said Pascual.

If Pascual remains out of a job until next week, she said she plans to file for unemployment benefits, but cannot be sure she will be eligible.

Her husband is retired and has limited resources on a fixed income. Both of her college student daughters still live at home.

She recently rented a room in her home to a boarder and started selling some of her possessions on eBay.

“My options are very limited,” she said. “I’m just hoping for the best.”

Hold the donuts

The Dunkin’ Donuts near three of Chicago’s federal office buildings usually has a line out the door as court clerks, Environmental Protection Agency lawyers and Internal Revenue Service agents feed their sugar habits.

On Wednesday, business was so scarce one customer had three attendants, each of them offering “Can I help you?” in chorus. This makes store manager Vanessa Banderas nervous about her workers’ jobs, and her own.

“The way it was today, it was like ‘Oh my God, where is everybody? Where’s the business?'” said Banderas, 30, of Chicago, a single mother with four school-age children.

If business remains this slow, she will have to temporarily lay off about half of the store’s 18 workers, she said.

“I just thought Obama’s doing the right thing because he wants health care for everyone and then look what’s going on,” Banderas said.

Science shut down

National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Fritz helped build the computer model that predicted flooding from Hurricane Sandy that hammered New York and New Jersey a year ago. Now the roughly 65 people in her office have been sent home without pay.

“It’s like getting the wind knocked out of you,” said Fritz, 38 and a union steward, who faces $130,000 in student loans for her masters degrees in oceanography and meteorology.

The family’s main breadwinner, she pays $500 to $600 a month on the loans, plus rent and health insurance.

Now, all spending is on hold.

“I need a new laptop,” Fritz said. “That’s not happening.”

Paycheck ‘held hostage’

In a time of crisis, Karen Buondonna looks for levity. She jokes that she is well-prepared for the furlough because it is her third in just over two years, thanks to a stop-gap funding extension and sequestration.

A researcher for the Federal Aviation Authority’s drone program in New Jersey, Buondonna considered riding out the government shutdown at the beach in Atlantic City. But, faced with the prospect of losing a paycheck, she has spent her days at home, hoping to be called back to work.

“My paycheck is being held hostage because of something I am not a part of,” said Buondonna, 46, the main bread winner in her family, which includes her 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. “It’s very disruptive and very stressful. I have bills to pay just like everyone else.”

Buondonna, speaking as a representative of her union, and not as an employee of the FAA, said she has already canceled a planned kitchen renovation and may have to use her savings to make her next mortgage payment.

But what she was most distressed about was being prevented form doing her job.

“It’s not just a job to me,” she said. “I believe in the mission of my agency. I am a dedicated government worker.”

No fishing

Among the federal parks closed by the shutdown is Florida’s Everglades National Park, where Rich Smith, 33, has been fishing since he was a boy and today makes his living as a guide.

Park Rangers have told fishing guides to stay out of the park during the shutdown, threatening them with big fines if they disobey, he said.

“Unfortunately there isn’t anything else for me. This is my 11th year of guiding full time, you don’t just pick up and do something else. In the Florida Keys we’re 100 per cent about tourism,” Smith said.

Smith fishes more than 200 days a year in the park, charging customers $400 to $600 for four to eight hours of fishing. A month-long shutdown could cost him as much as $10,000.

Smith had a trip booked for Thursday, paid for months ago by a repeat customer. Now he may have to cancel.

“There are other areas he can fish,” Smith said, “but the Everglades is one of the best destinations on planet earth.”

Ripple effect ‘hurts everyone’

Victims of discrimination will just have to wait.

Rebecca Eaton and her colleagues at the Seattle branch of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigate claims of employment discrimination in violation of federal law in Washington state, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska.

They arrived at work on Tuesday to a memo instructing them to freeze all legal cases and close the office.

“The ripple effect of this one thing is hurting everybody,” said Eaton, 39, a legal assistant, who has so far constricted her spending and cancelled an annual vacation.

She worries unemployment benefits could be delayed because federal funding that covers processing costs in the Washington state office have been halted. The state unemployment office said it was covering this shortage by dipping into its own limited funds, which could run out in a few weeks.

Copyright: Thomson Reuters 2013

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