Across the Valley, Watching, Waiting
Park Ranger Scott Davison answers questions following a guided tour at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vt. on Monday, September 30, 2013. The park, which is administered by the National Parks Service, will shut down to the public tomorrow if congress does not reach a govermnent funding deal tonight. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Marie Hanson, language interpreter, pulls a cart along a carriage road at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vt. on Monday, September 30, 2013. The park, which is administered by the National Parks Service, will shut down to the public tomorrow if congress does not reach a govermnent funding deal tonight. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock — October is the busiest month for the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park, but with a possible government shutdown looming, Christina Marts, the park’s assistant superintendent, spent the past few days warning school groups and foliage tourists that their plans might need to change.
Three school groups are scheduled to visit the park today, Marts said, and she was hopeful the students would be able to come. Still, Marts had to prepare for the prospect that Congress would not reach agreement on a bill to fund federal agencies when the new fiscal year begins today. Without a deal, all national parks were expected to close.
“This is the height of our school visits,” Marts said Monday afternoon, adding that the park, which includes carriage trails and a historic mansion, receives 20,000 visitors in October. “We get hundreds of kids coming through here this time of year.”
The park’s 26 employees weren’t the only people in the Upper Valley watching anxiously as Monday’s midnight deadline approached. Federal employers and others that rely on federal funding also were bracing for a government shutdown.
Employees at Hanover’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, which is operated by the Army, expect to learn whether they have been furloughed when they show up to work this morning, said Bryan Armbrust, a laboratory spokesman. Of CRREL’s 193 federal employees, about 41 stand to be affected by a shutdown, Armbrust said.
The staff continued with business as usual on Monday, he said.
“We’re in the government and this is an issue from time to time,” Armbrust said.
Not every federal facility would cease to function without a deal in Congress. Veterans would continue to receive care at the White River Junction VA Medical Center. The Postal Service would continue to accept and deliver the mail. Social Security checks would go out. And air traffic controllers would continue to keep flights arriving and departing, including at Lebanon Municipal Airport.
Federal services deemed less essential, however, stand to be affected. For example, veterans could experience significant delays when applying for new disability, education, pay and pension benefits, according to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs. And in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments for compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs would be suspended, said Victoria Dillon, the VA’s acting press secretary, in a statement.
A shutdown that lasts weeks or months also could have consequences for organizations that rely on federal funding, even if they do not have any federal workers.
The nonprofit Southeastern Vermont Community Action, for example, relies on federal money to fund programs for low-income residents. SEVCA offers a variety of services, including fuel assistance and help accessing food stamps, and also runs Head Start programs in White River Junction, Windsor and Springfield, Vt. The organization is awaiting a $466,000 community services block grant, said executive director Steve Geller. If there is a delay in receiving those funds, Geller said, SEVCA might not be paid retroactively and would receive less grant money than it had budgeted.
“That’s happened before, that when there are delays and they couldn’t reach an agreement, they have not gone back to restore funding,” Geller said. “It’s a concern. It is a possibility.”
SEVCA already had to do some belt-tightening last spring after the federal spending cuts known as sequestration forced it to eliminate a management position and cut the length of the Head Start program by two weeks, Geller said. A government shutdown of a day or two does not pose much of a threat to SEVCA programs, he said. But a prolonged shutdown and continued cuts to annual federal support are a “slippery slope” that could have severe consequences for SEVCA programs.
Even organizations that would not be directly affected by a government shutdown have concerns. The Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock does not rely on federal funds to support itself, but it adjoins the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park and the two share a close relationship, said David Donath, president of the Woodstock Foundation, which owns and operates the farm and museum.
During fall foliage, museum visitors also like to walk the park’s trails and visit attractions such as the mansion, and they are certain to be disappointed if the park were closed, he said. But Donath’s concerns went beyond Woodstock.
“It’s troubling to me,” he said of a government shutdown. “It’s not just here. It’s all across the country.”
Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.