The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 30, 2013

Shutdown would affect government workers, services

By Mark Zdechlik Minnesota Public Radio News
The Mankato Free Press

---- — A federal government shutdown — because some Republicans in the House oppose a continuing resolution to fund government operations without changes in the Affordable Care Act — isn't expected to change much in Minnesota.

Airports will still be open. Federal food safety and inspection programs will continue. The Postal Service will still deliver mail, and Social Security and Medicare benefits will still be there.

"For most people the shutdown, if it's short, will be big theater in D.C., but little impact back home," University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said.

However, the roughly 19,000 federal employees in Minnesota who do not work for the Post Service could be sent home to wait out the shutdown — the first in 17 years.

Among them would be Julie Galonska, who handles media relations and several other jobs for the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. It's one of five areas in Minnesota managed by the National Parks Service.

Galonska and almost all of the other park service employees are categorized as "non-essential" employees. They will be sidelined if the federal government shuts down.

"We remain hopeful that the federal government is not going to shut down," she said Monday.

Six National Park Service law enforcement officers who work on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway will remain on the job during a shutdown, Galonska said. But the park's two interpretive centers will be closed. So will all of the other facilities, including popular campsites along 230 miles of the Namekagon and upper St. Croix rivers.

Galonska said that could affect thousands of people.

"We are at the height of fall color season right now, or just about to approach it, so it does have an impact on our visitors," she said. "I checked on our visitation last October and at the riverway we had almost 7,000 visitors. Most of those coming during the first half of the month for peak fall color."

Most visitors came to see fall foliage in the first half of October, Galonska said.

A federal government shutdown also affects taxpayer access to important government offices, including the Internal Revenue Service. Although people will still have to pay taxes, those with questions will not be able to call the IRS for answers.

Similarly, anyone who needs a new passport or has to apply for a travel visa will have to wait.

Those who need replacement Social Security cards also will be out of luck.

For many people, such inconveniences might seem trivial — at least in the short term. But the U.S. economy could suffer from a prolonged government shutdown, said Chris Farrell, economics editor for Marketplace Money, a national program produced by American Public Media.

A shutdown poses serious questions for Washington during a weak and disappointing economic recovery, Farrell said. "Who isn't being hired because business is unsure about what's going to happen? What capital projects aren't being invested in because of this rising uncertainty?

"It just simply adds to the momentum toward a weak recovery," he said.

Many people are angry that the federal government has become so dysfunctional.

That's how Marilyn Chesnik and Jerry Dorff feel. They own and operate Wild River Outfitters along the St. Croix River in Grantsburg, Wis., and worry that a shutdown would hurt business. They also fear that, without federal workers, the riverway would not be properly maintained.

"I'm furious that these outfits that we elect cannot come together and be reasonable," Chesnik said.

Dorff agreed. "It's unbelievable. This is just another example, another situation where our federal government — the Congress and Senate — are not able to do the people's business, and that's not only irritating, I'm just kind of outraged — kind of really mad at them for not taking care of their job."

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard in Mankato on 90.5 FM or at MPRnews.org.