Federal shutdown hits swamp

Published 11:20 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The closure of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge appears to be Suffolk’s highest-profile casualty so far of the partial federal government shutdown that hit America midnight Monday.

The popular refuge, headquartered within Suffolk city limits, is among 561 national wildlife refuges closed to public access and whose visitor centers and other buildings are closed, Bruce Decker, acting communications chief with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an email.

More than 7,000 service employees have been furloughed until an appropriation of funds is passed, Decker said.


Email newsletter signup

“All activities on refuge lands and in public buildings are canceled,” he said. “This includes hunting and fishing activities.”

The nation has arrived at the first federal government shutdown in 17 years after the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected a Republican-led House proposal only to let the U.S. temporarily continue paying its bills by delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act — now routinely referred to as Obamacare by both parties — for one year.

The House proposal also would have barred all federal lawmakers, as well as Congressional and administration staffers, from receiving federal subsidies under the act.

A spending agreement is needed because the nation has effectively maxed out its credit limit previously set by Congress.

One side says it is irresponsible to “hold the federal budget to ransom” in order to chip away at Obamacare, which extends health insurance to millions. The other side believes the House is performing a legitimate check and balance provided for in the U.S. Constitution to fix a law most Americans are either skeptical of or hostile toward.

In an emailed message, Republican Randy Forbes, representing Suffolk in the House, sought to blame the Senate, arguing that its rejection of a motion Tuesday to conference with the House marked “the third time in 24 hours the Senate has rejected an overture from the House related to avoiding a government shutdown.”

Other impacts in Suffolk could be added to the Great Dismal Swamp’s closure if the standoff continues.

“At this time, we do not anticipate a significant impact to the City of Suffolk if the federal government shutdown is for a short period of time,” City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn wrote to City Council members.

But a prolonged shutdown, she wrote, could hit law enforcement, community development, transportation and more, through delays in federal grant reimbursements.

Social service programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps and Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance could also be impacted.

Other impacts from a longer shutdown could include health programs like the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children program, as well as Head Start services, Cuffee-Glenn added

Clarissa McAdoo, its executive director, said public housing programs operated by the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority were safe at least through October.

But if the shutdown continues longer, she said, staff may no longer be on hand at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to disperse checks that support them.

“Depending on the length of the shutdown, some housing authorities may be able to maintain minimal operations, but some will probably end up changing operations and business hours,” McAdoo said. “That could be an impact on us.”

She was citing information contained in a 67-page department operations document in lieu of anyone to speak to at headquarters in Washington.

“If they are not able to go into work, there is no one to process all those payments, not only for the Housing Choice Voucher Program” but for other public housing, McAdoo said.

“There will be issues for us if we go beyond 31 days.”

Suffolk Public Schools is “monitoring the situation very closely” and not expecting any immediate impacts from the shutdown, its spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said in an email.

“We have received no information to date that our funding reimbursement would be interrupted should the federal government shut down,” she said.

“Much depends on how they shut down, the length of time it takes for a resolution, and any continuing budgets for specific programs that are passed in the meantime.”

No field trips to any national parks or other federal facilities had been scheduled, she said.