Shutdown Hits Federal Employees, Visitors To Missions

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United States Park Rangers open the front gates to Mission San José.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

United States Park Rangers open the front gates to Mission San José.

As the first weekday began in a likely three-day government shutdown, many federal employees in Central Texas went to work, only to learn they were being sent home.

Though comprehensive numbers were not available Monday, scores of employees whose daily duties were not essential to protecting life or property were furloughed on Monday.

At Joint Base San Antonio, the furloughs affected civilians in jobs pertaining to logistics, personnel support, youth services, recreation, and communications, said Lt. Christian Eberhardt of JBSA’s public affairs office.

Eberhardt could not provide a number of furloughed employees, but as an example, he cited one of the Air Force squadrons attached to JBSA being reduced to 18 percent of its normal capacity.

Federal courts remained open, with opening statements in the trial of State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) beginning Monday at San Antonio’s U.S. District Court.

The government is expected to reopen Tuesday after the House approves a Senate deal that would secure funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years.

The Senate compromise funds the government through Feb. 8, with GOP leaders promising a vote on immigration in February. That means there could another shutdown within one month.

Many federal staffers faced the same fate of those working in the Texas Water Science Center in Austin, a U.S. Geological Survey station home to scientists who study rivers, streams, and aquifers in the state.

“Due to the lapse in appropriations, I am prohibited from conducting work as a federal employee, including returning phone calls and emails, until further notice,” read an automatic email response from Austin-based USGS hydrologist Lynne Fahlquist.

She provided phone numbers for those who “urgently need to speak with someone at the USGS regarding emergencies or matters of protecting life and property.”

Not all civilians working in San Antonio’s military bases were furloughed, with some jobs considered “mission-essential,” said James Cannizzo, a civilian attorney for the Army who came to work Monday to perform his job as counsel for Camp Bullis and Camp Stanley.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staffers also had a normal work day, according to an email sent by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to the agency’s roughly 15,000 personnel Friday night, directing staff to perform their normal duties this week.

“At this time EPA has sufficient resources to remain open for a limited amount of time in the event of a government shutdown,” Pruitt’s email said.

Starting on Saturday, the National Parks Service’s visitor centers at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park were closed, with all services and programming canceled.

The Catholic churches inside the missions remained open for services, said Brother Kevin Lenihan, the administrator of the church inside Mission San José.

Students with federal student aid should not be impacted by the government closure, according to the Department of Education. The federal offices will close, but the offices of Title IV processors will remain open. Most customer service contact centers will remain open.

According to a U.S. Department of Education contingency plan by Secretary Betsy DeVos, monies for Pell Grants and Direct student loans come through “mandatory and carryover appropriations.”

“Over 13 million students receive student aid, in the form of grants and loans, at more than 6,200 schools through these programs,” the guidance memo states. “As a result of the permanent and multi-year appropriations, Pell Grants and student loans could continue as normal for some time.”

 

Education Reporter Emily Donaldson contributed to this report.

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