Bay Area braces for possible federal shutdown

National parks, tax returns, passport applications among services that would halt

Bay Area visitors will be denied entry to national parks and tax returns will be thrust into limbo if Congress fails to reach an appropriations agreement and the federal government shuts down.

"There are many costs to a federal government shutdown, including putting some 800,000 federal employees out of work -- 26,000 of whom reside in our Congressional District," Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, said in a statement Friday.

Eshoo said her offices in Palo Alto and Washington, D.C., will remain open.

"My staff will remain on duty without pay if there is a shutdown," Eshoo said, though she emphasized that a shutdown would be costly to Americans.

"A shutdown will prevent the IRS from issuing refund checks, freeze federal environmental clean-up projects, delay pay for our soldiers fighting overseas, stall new applications for Social Security, Medicare, passports, and visas, and halt Small Business Administration and Federal Housing Authority loans," she said.

"A shutdown will close 25 National Park sites in California, and veterans who receive disability benefits may also see their payments delayed."

President Barack Obama said during a speech Wednesday that a government shutdown this weekend would have "real effects on everyday Americans," including those waiting for tax rebates. Hundreds of thousands of government workers would go without paychecks, and mortgages and other loans could be jeopardized, Obama said.

In the Bay Area, Alcatraz Island, Fort Point and Muir Woods would be among the National Park Service facilities closed in the event of a shutdown, spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said.

Gated parking lots and visitor centers would be closed, and access to park areas denied, according to the Department of the Interior, which oversees the national parks. Visitors using overnight campgrounds and other accommodations would be given 48 hours to make alternative arrangements.

The Park Service would retain just enough employees to protect life and property on public lands, meaning some law enforcement, emergency services and firefighting personnel would be retained, according to the Interior Department. Those workers would count as "excepted" employees, or those who report to work without pay during a shutdown and are reimbursed retroactively, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Furloughed workers, however, are not paid and not permitted to work, and they only receive back pay if Congress specially approves it. Although federal agencies do not have the authority to pay their employees during a shutdown, all workers continue to be covered under the Federal Employee Health Benefits program. Military and essential law enforcement personnel fall into the excepted employee category.

FBI personnel in the field would continue to work, including in the San Francisco field office, a U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman said. Drug-trafficking and gun-violence operations would continue as usual. Federal prisons would remain open, and criminal litigation would continue as an "activity essential to the safety of human life and protection of property," Department of Justice spokeswoman Jessica Smith said.

The U.S. Marshals Service would also continue transporting detainees, providing security for judges and courts, and working in the field, she said. A government shutdown would mostly affect civil litigation, community outreach to victims of crime, and processing of grants, she said.

Military personnel participating in operations "essential to safety, protection of human life, and protection of our national security" are also excepted from shutting down, according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. They too would not be paid during the shutdown, but military retirees and annuitants are not paid from appropriated funds and would continue to receive benefits. Inpatient and essential outpatient care in U.S. Department of Defense treatment facilities would also continue.

The U.S. Postal Service would continue to deliver mail but would not accept passport applications, an agency spokesman said. As of Thursday, post offices had planned to continue accepting applications, but the U.S. Department of State issued a notice Friday morning stating passports would not be processed, postal-service spokesman Jim Widgel said. Post offices would still be open for business because stamps and service fees -- not tax dollars -- fund the postal service's deliveries and other activities, Widgel said.

Eshoo said "the ripple effects could impact everyone from families who won't be able to get a housing loan to the thousands of companies that ship supplies to government agencies.

"When the government closed for 20 days in the 1990s, the nation's economic growth slowed by as much as a full percentage point in that quarter, according to leading economists," she said.

Bay City News Service contributed to this story.

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Like this comment
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm

One reason I always get my tax return in by early March...

Like this comment
Posted by Tea Party
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm

All of this because Planned Parenthood receives some Federal money for health care programs for low-income women?

Like this comment
Posted by ten18
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2011 at 9:04 pm

OMG - what if they shut it down and we didn't notice!?

Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Sounds like this was written by Anna Eshoo rather than the Palo Alto Online staff.

Like this comment
Posted by mmm
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 9, 2011 at 3:49 am

Posted by Terry, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, 5 hours ago

Sounds like this was written by Anna Eshoo rather than the Palo Alto Online staff


i think Palo Alto Online already has been on shut down mode!

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2011 at 10:17 am

Now that the shutdown has been avoided, it is time to get serious about what the policy will be to pay for and provide healthcare for the poor and elderly.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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