“Closed” signs went up at national parks, and federal employees went home across South Florida on Tuesday as the federal government limped its way through the first day of a shutdown.
With a funding bill stalled in Congress, the national debate over a potential shutdown shifted to local consequences around the region. Managers of federal offices dispatched workers to unpaid furloughs while asking those deemed essential to remain at their posts without pay. Lawyers fielded calls from clients suddenly unable to use the government’s e-verify system to check employees’ immigration status. And national parks, home of the U.S. government’s largest local footprint, began the process of turning away the public.
“There’s lots of barricades,” said Linda Friar, a spokeswoman for the Everglades National Park, which attracts about 1 million tourists a year. “There are no buildings open, no facilities open, no restrooms.”
The first government shutdown in 17 years took hold Tuesday in ways large and small.
Government websites shifted to static pages, the secretary of labor scratched a trip to Miami, and 800,000 federal workers went home without pay — a number larger than the combined workforces of Target, Exxon, Google and General Motors. In Washington, a group of elderly veterans stormed the closed World War II Memorial in protest of its closure; in Doral, 700 civilian military employees began an indefinite stretch of unpaid furlough.
Even so, the partial shutdown left many government services functioning normally. Obama administration officials said air travel should not be affected, Social Security checks will be mailed as usual, and passport and most immigration requests will be processed. But with House Republicans unwilling to fund government operations if the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, remains intact, hundreds of federal functions essentially ran out of money Tuesday, the first day of Washington’s new budget year.
The Agriculture Department said no additional federal funds would be available during the shutdown for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. That program provides financial support for clinical services and food for needy mothers of young children.
The department said that states, which administer the program, might have some funds on hand to keep things going for a week, but “would likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period.”
The Florida Department of Health provided no information about the WIC program, saying only that it “continues to monitor the situation in Washington, D.C.”
For the Lotus House in Miami, which provides shelter and services to more than 100 homeless women and children daily, the uncertainty adds “just one more challenge in an extremely challenging environment,” said director Constance Collins.
In addition to providing meals, counseling, access to healthcare and other support, the organization helps connect women with government support systems such as WIC. The previous budget sequestration has already taken a toll, Collins said.
“Already, all of us are resource-starved to do what we do,” she said. “Then to see this larger safety net sort of crumbling around you, that’s a little scary. That’s a lot scary.”