Cumberland Times-News

October 1, 2013

Local shutdown affects the Park Service most noticeably

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — A plan is in place for local Social Security Administration offices and for National Park Service offices and parks, if a federal government shutdown occurs overnight.

The impact on national parks will be among the most severe and noticeable, according to government officials.

All national parks would be closed, as would the Smithsonian museums, including the National Zoo in Washington, according to The Associated Press. Visitors using overnight campgrounds or other park facilities would be given 48 hours to make alternate arrangements and leave the park, the AP said.

The Allegany County Human Resources Development Commission and local Head Start programs could be affected by a shutdown, depending on the length of the event.

“There are several scenarios. ... short term we will operate as long as funds allow,” said HRDC executive director Courtney Thomas. Thomas is optimistic that an agreement may be reached, at least avoiding a shutdown for a few weeks. This has happened before, but Thomas said this is the closest things have gotten to a deadline that she remembers.

The HRDC would have to consider closing the county’s Head Start centers and other programs if the shutdown is prolonged. The HRDC’s senior programs and other federally funded programs could also be affected. “Everyone is very anxious,” Thomas said.

Congressional offices are a different matter. U.S. Rep. John Delaney’s office in Hagerstown will not be affected if a shutdown occurs.

“Our offices in Washington, Gaithersburg and Hagerstown will remain open in the event of a shutdown. Although we will have to postpone our additional office hours, we will continue regular constituent services by phone, email and by appointment,” said Will McDonald, one of Delaney’s staff members. Delaney’s office also offers hours at the Allegany County Library on Washington Street.

Delaney has called for a resolution to the impending shutdown.

Social Security offices will likely remain open, and a contingency plan is in place, officials at the national media office for Social Security said. Reporters were referred to a copy of the plan.

The plan outlines services that will be curtailed and/or continued at field offices. Among those curtailed will be issuance of new or replacement Social Security cards. Applications for benefits will still be accepted. Social Security payments will continue to be made, the plan states.

 Passports may be hard to get, according to a press release from AAA Mid-Atlantic.  

“It’s regrettable that travelers may have to change plans due to the ongoing congressional gridlock,” said Ragina C. Averella, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “AAA Mid-Atlantic is hopeful that an agreement can be reached so that travelers looking forward to visiting our national parks, monuments and museums are not disappointed.”

Passport processing centers and all activities supporting passport processing would be suspended according to an August Congressional Research Service Report, “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects.”

 During the last government shutdown in 1996 approximately 20,000 to 30,000 applications by foreigners for visas reportedly went unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports reportedly went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines reportedly sustained millions of dollars in lost revenue, the AAA said.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.