Monday, March 10, 2014
WASHINGTON — Mainers will feel the effects of the first federal government shutdown in 17 years based on where they live, what they do and – perhaps most important – how long the congressional gridlock lasts.
Small-business people who need federal loans might face longer waits. Campers will have to leave Acadia National Park. And thousands of civilian employees at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard won’t know whether they will be able to work and, if not, how long they will go without pay.
“There’s no guarantee that if you’re out on furlough, you’ll get paid,” said Debbie Jennings, president of the shipyard’s International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. “We don’t know if this is going to be a one-day thing or a week.”
Most Maine residents won’t notice much difference.
Mail will be delivered six days a week. Social Security, Medicare and food stamp benefits will be distributed as usual. And veterans will be able to see their doctors or get prescriptions from Togus and other facilities.
MIXED IMPACTS ON DEFENSE
About 10,900 federal employees were working in Maine in June, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management. About half of them are tied to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, where workers repair and maintain nuclear-powered submarines.
In the event of a shutdown, many of the more than 4,700 civilian workers at the shipyard won’t know whether they will be working Tuesday until after they arrive for work.
“If a government shutdown occurs, all Department of Defense personnel (civilians and sailors) would still report to work on their next scheduled duty day, beginning at their normal hours, where they will then receive additional guidance and instructions,” a defense official said Monday.
Jennings described a chaotic atmosphere Monday as workers frantically sought information.
If the shutdown lasts two weeks or more, shipyard employees will be responsible for paying their employer’s share of their health insurance premiums, Jennings said.
The House and the Senate passed bills to continue paying active duty military personnel during a shutdown. And Department of Veterans Affairs programs – including the Togus VA hospital in Augusta – will continue to serve clients, although functions such as disability appeals may be delayed.
The Maine Department of Labor receives 97 percent of its funding from the federal government, but department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said Monday that it does not foresee an impact on “core services,” such as payments of unemployment insurance benefits or processing of new applications.
“We anticipate that we should be able to maintain all critical services if this a short-term shutdown,” Rabinowitz said. “If it goes on longer, we will have to make some other decisions based on guidance we get from the feds.”
ACADIA CLOSED FOR BUSINESS
Acadia National Park typically gets about 600,000 visitors in September and October but will be closed to the public just as the fall foliage season begins, potentially making a major economic impact on Mount Desert Island.
All park roads – including the Park Loop and the route up Cadillac Mountain – will be closed to traffic. Hiking trails and carriage roads will also technically be closed, though deputy Superintendent Len Bobinchock said the park’s staff will not stop people from using them. A skeleton crew of as many as 15 staffers will continue to provide law enforcement, search and rescue or other services.
Campers will be given 48 hours to vacate their campsites and offered refunds.
That could put a crimp in the plans of tourists, including tens of thousands who are expected to arrive aboard 41 cruise ships in Bar Harbor in October. Local business officials insist that there is plenty to do outside the park and hope that people will still come to Mount Desert Island.
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