Government Shutdown would be felt far beyond Capitol Hill

8:49 PM, Sep 30, 2013   |    comments
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(USA Today)-- In Plymouth, Mass., Cassandra Lester worries about the stress her fiancé faces as a Marine veteran receiving disability and other benefits who might not be able to "pay bills, school, rent."

In Lansing, Mich., Jessica Yorko says she is in the middle of a mortgage refinance and worries that a federal shutdown will delay her FHA loan and cost her a locked-in loan rate.

See also: Obama blames House GOP for imminent shutdown

More than 40% of federal workers across the nation face furlough if the government shuts down Tuesday. Social Security recipients will receive benefits, mail service will continue and taxes will still be collected. But the impact will be great, and it will spread far beyond Washington and the federal buildings scattered across the nation.

Lester, 27, says that when government workers were furloughed in 2011, the couple went four months without military benefits because paperwork wasn't processed. Now her fiancé is due to complete his studies as a diesel technician in November, and she is concerned that he may not receive any educational or disability benefits during a shutdown – "and of course, we cannot get anyone on the phone at the VA," she says.

She says their situation is more stable now than in 2011, but as they plan their wedding, they are dogged by concerns about paying their bills if the shutdown lasts too long and a VA paperwork backlog develops.

"He worked for this money. It is his money," she says. "We assumed that the money for veterans was secured and set aside in accounts for the veterans. He put his life on the line for two deployments to Iraq in the thick of wartime only to have spoiled politicians, who have all their bills comfortably paid, for us to become default on our bills and unable to pay rent."

Cyndi Luttrell, 49, works at a federal data processing facility in Jeffersonville, Ind. She and more than 800 co-workers have been told that if the government shuts down, they will be sent home.

See also: What will a shutdown mean for you?

"Eighty percent of us normally earn $30,000 a year or less," she says. "We have mortgages, kids, student loans. If we miss even one or two days of pay, that's a lot to us. We have lives out here that Congress is messing with."

Head Start centers will close if the government does. In the Tallahassee area, that would hit nearly 400 children, their families and 100 staffers.

"We're providing a very robust preschool experience to children who live in families in poverty," said Tim Center, executive director of the Capital Area Community Action Agency, which administers the program in a three-county area. "And that enables those parents to go to school, find work or go to a job. And you take away child care, parents can't go to work."

See Also: 5 things to know about the government shutdown

Head Start serves 378 children ages 3 and 4, offering not only preschool but also medical, dental and mental-health care and a variety of social and other services. Children in the program receive breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack, food they might not get otherwise, Center said.

The shutdown would slam the gates and shut the doors of places such as national parks, historic sites, the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, where the animals will be cared for but the panda cam will go dark.

The historic district of Philadelphia is a tourist mecca, with thousands of visitors daily crowding Independence Mall, the Liberty Bell and other historic sites. That won't be the case if the federal government shuts down. And that doesn't bode well for the shops and vendors that cater to those tourists.

"It'll have a big effect," one tourist in the crowded mall area told the local CBS affiliate. "Nobody's going to be going into the stores to eat or buy anything. I don't know how they can do that (close the sites). This is history. Look at all these people."

See also: Bradenton park could be victim of government shutdown

If the museums and monuments shut down and are still closed on Oct. 16, 270 eighth graders from John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton, N.J., will be very disappointed, principal Jason Burr says.

His eighth graders visit Washington every year as part of their civics course. They tour the Capitol, the Smithsonian museums and all the monuments.

"They look forward to this more than any other thing they do all year," he says.

The trip is usually in May, but it was planned for off-peak travel this year. Thinking about last October, when Superstorm Sandy hit, Burr says he was worried about the possibility of bad weather.

"I didn't think I would have to be worried about a government shutdown," he says. "I hope cooler heads prevail," he says.

In Washington, thousands of runners are registered for Sunday's Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon that starts near George Washington's Mount Vernon, Va., homestead and includes several miles along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is operated by the National Park Service.

The Park Service said Monday that if the government closes, all of its programs will be canceled. Race officials posted a note on Facebook that "since our first 8 miles are in a National Park, we could be affected. We will be making a public statement on Wednesday to update all of our runners."

A shutdown even threatens wedded bliss.

The National Mall and Memorial Parks have issued 24 permits for October weddings at the Lincoln Memorial, George Mason Memorial and the D.C. War Memorial, spokeswoman Carol Johnson says. An e-mail went out Monday telling prospective brides and grooms, who apply for the permits up to a year in advance, that if the government shuts down, all events are canceled, she says.

"Those memorials will be closed," Johnson said. "I think people will be quite upset. Unfortunately, it's beyond our control."

The Mall itself, the grassy swath that reaches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, would close. Barricades would block Jefferson and Madison drives, the roads that flank the Mall, and some of the memorials themselves. Public restrooms will be locked. Even the fountains that grace the parks will go dry, she said. Trash pickup at federal park properties will be suspended, including federal spaces throughout the city, such as Farragut Square Park and Dupont Circle.

Bottom line: Thousands of people will not get to see what they came to Washington to see.

"We get 1,200 buses filled with 50 people a day, easily thousands of people," Johnson said. "A lot of people are going to be very disappointed."

If California's Yosemite National Park closes, weddings scheduled at the two hotels inside the park, the Ahwahnee and the Wawona, will move to the Tenaya Lodge, a hotel and resort a few miles from the park's southern gate, says Lisa Cesaro, spokeswoman for DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, which runs all three hotels.

"We do have some weddings for the coming week, so we're on standby. We have a contingency plan in the workswith alternative accommodations," Cesaro said.

The couples who have booked the weddings are moving ahead with their plans, she said.

"It's really unfortunate. This is not a situation you'd want to be in as a bride, but we're optimistic," she said. "We'll just have to wait and see. If it happens, we'll work around it and do our best to accommodate everyone."

Not everyone is concerned about the shutdown, however. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and others demanding that what they call Obamacare be defunded as part of a deal to avert the crisis have their supporters, too.

"The gov't shutdown will save us all some money, my life won't be affected at all," tweeted Jason Sipes, pastor of West Hickman (Ky.) Baptist Church. "Thank you Mr. Cruz for sticking up for us."

Contributing: Marisol Bello and Donna Leinwand Leger, USA TODAY; Jeff Burlew, the Tallahassee Democrat

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