Signs reading “CLOSED” have been turning away disappointed visitors all week as they try to access the Statue of Liberty, the Smithsonian and other national parks. Yet these scenes give a limited sense of the real hardships caused by the nation’s first government shutdown since 1996. As inconvenient as the shutdown may be for these tourists, their experience can hardly approach the difficulties of federal workers who must now go without paychecks until Congress reaches an agreement.
All total, about 800,000 so-called “unessential” federal employees have been sent home – a number larger than the workforces of General Motors, Google, Exxon and Target combined. Moreover, these federal employees have no idea of when they will be able to return to work. Many of them report that they will be putting purchases on credit cards in the coming days or weeks to save cash reserves for an emergency. Yet this is hardly a sustainable practice. Robert Thompson, a grounds maintenance worker at NASA, says that he is already behind financially from difficulties earlier this year recovering workers compensation benefits. And this time around, a Work Injury Attorney will not be able to help him resolve the issue; like all other federal employees, he must simply wait and see.
George Turner, a building mechanic at the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC, explained that “After next week if we’re not working, I’m going to have to find a job.” He was merely called in for part of the day on Tuesday to empty the trash, shut off the water and help close up the place.
The ripple effects are moving into many sectors, from FBI and federal prosecutors’ offices forced to cut back on their operations, to administrators cancelling dozens of permits for weddings planned at historic sites in the nation’s capitol. Visitors camping at national parks were given a two-day notice that they must pack their belongings and leave, and some parks shut out traffic entirely.
Cheryl Strahl from California had to settle for looking at the Statue of Liberty from a boat rather than entering Staten Island on foot. “There has to be better ways to run the government than to get to a standstill like this,” she said. “Why take it out on the national parks?”