Yosemite National Park’s 123rd anniversary is today, but the park’s famous sights and attractions are off limits due to a nationwide government shutdown that took effect at midnight Monday.
Federal government operations shut down and national treasures were closed to the public after House representatives refused to budge on their effort to link the passage of the 2014 federal budget to a delay in the implementation of health care reform.
Essentially, the closure is the result of unwavering partisan politics as Democrats and Republicans refuse to agree to fund or defund the Affordable Care Act – sometimes referred to in a derogatory manner as Obamacare. With a budget deadline looming, House Republicans had presented and eventually approved a measure that funded the federal government at current levels until mid-December and delayed implementation of the Affordable Care Act by a year. Senate Democrats vowed to shoot it down, which is exactly what happened.
Now, the House is blaming the Senate and the Senate is blaming the House for the resulting government shutdown.
As of Tuesday morning, 800,000 workers – about 40 percent of the government’s civilian work force – will be temporarily out of a job, while 1 million federal employees will be asked to work without pay.
Locally, the shutdown has resulted in the closure of Death Valley and Yosemite national parks, Manzanar National Historic Site and Veterans Service programs.
While Americans across the country are finding themselves furloughed from federal jobs or without vital services, those responsible for the shutdown, Congressional representatives, including Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) who represents Inyo and Mono counties, will continue to collect pay checks for failing to pass a spending plan.
With the National Parks closing, park law enforcement will remain on the job. As for Yosemite and Death Valley, park officials have said that major highways through the parks will remain open, but those traveling through will not be permitted to stop at vistas, trailheads or other destinations.
Furloughed employees were given four hours Tuesday morning to prepare for the shutdown. In a memo issued by Yosemite National Park officials, employees were instructed to turn off all work equipment. “The only exception is those in on-call status. NO work is to be conducted via phone, iPad, web connection, jump drive, etc. NONE. Devices are to be turned off until furlough ends,” the memo states.
Death Valley National Park Superintendent Kathy Billings said Tuesday that park visitors in all overnight campgrounds and national park concessions lodging will be given until 6 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday, Oct. 3 to make travel arrangements and leave the park. “In addition, all park programs and special events have been canceled, including: Star Party on Oct. 4 and 5 and other special use permit events,” she said.
Death Valley National Park hosts 4,000 visitors on average each day in October; nationally, more than 715,000 visitors a day frequent the National Park System. The park will lose an estimated $4,500 of entrance fees each day of the shutdown and an estimated $3,000 in other fees. “Nationwide the NPS stands to lose approximately $450,000 per day in lost revenue from fees collected at entry stations and fees paid for in-park activities such as cave tours, boat rides and camping,” Billings said, adding that gateway communities across the country could lose about $76 million per day in total sales from visitor spending due to the government shutdown.
Some of those “gateway” communities include Lone Pine and Olancha in Inyo County, and Lee Vining in Mono County.
Manzanar National Park Superintendent Les Inafuku said that all visitor facilities, including the Manzanar Visitor Center, barracks, mess hall and the auto tour road, are closed and will remain so until the government “re-opens.” He added that all Manzanar group tours and special events for the next two weeks have been canceled. Events scheduled beyond that may be canceled if the shutdown continues.
Manzanar hosts 210 visitors on average each day in October. As of Tuesday, 16 employees are on furlough because of the shutdown and another two Manzanar History Association bookstore employees are similarly affected. One employee remains on duty, providing facility security.
Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service did not return phone calls as of press time. It is unclear if those offices are open or if the employees have been furloughed.
Inyo County Veteran Service Representative Sol Sanabria said Tuesday that veteran services will not be impacted by the shut-down. He explained that back in May, Congress unanimously approved a letter to President Barack Obama, requesting that the backlog of veteran services be addressed. Within three weeks, Sanbria said, more than 633,000 veteran service claims had been adjudicated. "If Veteran Services were halted," Sanbria said, "it would just create additional problems."
According to Inyo County Agricultural Commissioner Nate Reade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service will continue to inspect for food safety according to its “Operations Plan for Absence of Appropriations,” which is available at www.usda.gov/documents/usda-fsis-shutdown-plan.pdf .
“Additionally, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will continue inspection of food products for quality, grade and residues, as will the local Agricultural Commissioner’s Offices as the local enforcement arm of CDFA,” Reade said. “So far, analysis of our revenue sources for the department has not turned up any significant consequences due to the federal government shutdown.”
He explained that most of Inyo County’s agricultural programs are funded through state resources and locally generated fees and assessments. “The few programs that operate on federal dollars are pass-through funding, meaning the funds pass through state agencies and then to us. The state agencies that we receive this funding through have already received the revenue needed for us to complete our contracts with them, so this should not affect our ability to complete the work associated with them,” Reade said. “My discussions with state personnel this morning indicated a very small likelihood of consequences to our local agriculture department absent a very extended federal shutdown.”
It is currently unknown how long the shutdown may last. The last – and longest – government shutdown occurred 17 years ago (1995) and lasted 21 days.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, he shutdown could cost as much as $2 billion.
It could delay financial support for more than 1,000 small businesses nationwide each week it is in effect.
According to U.S. News, a number of Head Start Programs, about 20 of 1,600 nationwide, will feel the impact immediately.
“The federal Administration for Children and Families says grants expiring about Oct. 1 would not be renewed. Over time more programs would be affected. Several of the Head Start programs that would immediately feel the pinch are in Florida. It’s unclear if they would continue serving children.”
As of Tuesday, Congress was in session, working to resolve the budget issue.