Residents, Federal Employees Brace For Possible Government Shutdown

Tourist attractions will be closed, and employees will be put on unpaid leave if Congress doesn't act fast.

photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

Karen Carson is wheelchair-bound, and if the government decides to come to a halt due to a stalemate in Congress over budgetary disputes, she risks losing her disability check, missing her rent payment, and not collecting the food stamps she needs in order to get food.

“I have $70 left in my checking account,” she said, sitting alongside protesters on Merimac Street in Boston on Monday, where close to 100 people gathered on the steps of the Massachusetts Republican Party headquarters to protest a possible government shutdown. “I’m fearful of this happening. If federal payments don’t go through, I won’t be able to afford my rent tomorrow.”

As a possible shutdown ensues in Washington, D.C., with a midnight deadline on the horizon, protesters at Monday’s gathering wanted to send a direct message to Congress that bickering over the details of the budget, and threatening to stall funding for federal programs, is “un-American.”

The group, comprised of government workers, advocates for the disabled, and senior citizens, delivered a letter to Republicans, on behalf of the Budget For All campaign, urging the state party to tell Congressional members in the House of Representatives to “stop playing games with peoples’ lives.”

House members in Congress are threatening to stall federal government operations unless affordable health care coverage—known as Obamacare—is delayed for one year. The current federal fiscal year ends Monday, September 30, and a “continuing resolution” must be passed in order for some governmental procedures to carry on as usual.

As many as 29,000 federal employees in the state would feel the impact of a shutdown come Tuesday, and face being furloughed without pay.

“The government is just being a big bully,” said Louetta Keene, executive vice president of Local 1164 AFGE, and a social security employee. “Until a shutdown is [averted] they won’t be releasing our paychecks, and that’s not what Congress should be doing right now. We do our jobs everyday, and right now, Congress should be doing theirs.”

The partial shutdown would also impact Boston’s tourist industry.

According to a spokesman from Boston’s National Historical Parks department, which is in charge of a collection of sites along the Freedom Trail, because of the looming threat of a shutdown, if a compromise isn’t made by midnight, federally funded public sites such as the U.S.S. Constitution would be closed because park employees would be on unpaid leave.

Other sites that could shutdown on Tuesday would include the Bunker Hill Monument and the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill.

“It would be locked, you wouldn’t be able to get in. The Faneuil Hall Visitor Center would be closed. You wouldn’t be able to go on a ranger-guided tour. No restrooms, no maps, no brochures,” said Sean Hennessy, Public Affairs Officer for the Boston National Historical Parks. The gates to the Charlestown Navy Yard would also be blocked from public access, he said.

There are 44 group reservations for students and other tourists in the month of October, and those people are being notified that plans may change, said Hennessy. The furlough would impact more than 100 employees that work for the Boston National Historic park alone. “I don’t know which way this is going to go,” said Hennessy.

Former presidents and Congress have failed to reach an agreement on funding measures in the past, causing government shutdowns. The longest example of such a situation lasted 21 days, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. If an agreement isn’t reached by midnight, it would be the first government shutdown of its kind in 17 years.