There is no good way for the national parks to close
Anatomy of a Government Shutdown
According to financial analysts, the economic costs of the government shutdown will well exceed the $5 billion President Donald Trump is demanding as a down payment for a border wall. And on Tuesday, Jan. 8, the president made his primetime case in less than 10 minutes to the American people during an Oval Office address that aired on all major networks.
If the current shutdown lasts through tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 12), it will officially become the longest closure in U.S. history. Currently, it is the second longest shutdown of the federal government.
The government partially shut down three weeks ago (on December 21, 2018) when the Senate failed to pass a spending bill that included funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, beginning a standoff that has carried into the new year.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the executive branch cannot simply decree that government money will be spent on something. Congress must pass a law authorizing the expenditure.
So the only way to build Trump’s proposed “wall” is to introduce a bill in Congress — and pass a law — allocating the money. Surveys reveal that most Americans oppose the project, and Trump doesn’t have the votes in Congress for the $5 billion he wants to start construction (much less the $22 to $70 billion that has been estimated for completion).
Currently, nine out of 15 federal departments (why it’s a “partial” shutdown), along with dozens of agencies and federal programs, have closed or reduced services. The departments of Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Agriculture, Treasury,
Commerce, Homeland Security, and Justice, as well as some independent agencies such as NASA, the EPA, the Office of Personnel Management and, ironically, the White House Executive Office of the President, are non-operational due to lack of funding.
Postal service, airport security, military, and emergency personnel continue to work. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (in California, Medi-Cal) functions are all expected to remain open. The IRS released a statement this week that it will process tax refunds.
The 39 million Americans who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will receive benefits through February. The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Energy are not affected because
Congress previously approved their 2019 budgets.
An estimated 800,000 federal employees, including about 23,000 in the National Park Service, are affected, either because they have been told to stay home or because they are working but not receiving paychecks during the shutdown. When the government reopens, these federal workers will most likely receive the back pay that’s owed, whether working or furloughed.
Usually, the legislation that reopens the government also provides all workers with their back pay. It’s still not easy to go weeks without a paycheck.
There is definitely some scrambling going on to pay car payments, mortgages, credit card bills, and utilities while having to budget for groceries and incidentals. But, eventually, lawmakers will see to it that these government employees are paid.
No Federal Pay Raise
President Trump issued an executive order Friday, Dec. 28, freezing federal workers’ pay for 2019. Trump defended the move, which nixes a 2.1 percent, across-the-board pay raise that was set to take effect this month, saying the federal budget can’t support it.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders last August, Trump described the pay increase as “inappropriate.”
“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” the president wrote.
Trump’s top political appointees, however, will receive raises of about $10,000 annually, beginning with their January paychecks. The raises for hundreds of appointees, including Vice President Mike Pence, are actually directly related to the shutdown.
When lawmakers failed to pass bills on December 21 to fund multiple federal agencies, an existing pay freeze expired that had been in effect since 2013. The raises go into effect because the pay freeze lapsed due to no legislative action to renew it, reinstating the increases that have been accumulating for five years.
Although the parks remained open through the winter holiday period, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks were completely closed to the public on January 2. This means the shutdown has had ripple effects beyond federal workers and into Three Rivers.
Three Rivers is unincorporated, and there is no local contingency plan to assist with funds needed to keep Sequoia National Park open or visitors otherwise streaming into Three Rivers. The community’s economy depends year-round on park visitors, and there will be no back pay or other assistance to make up for the loss of revenue experienced by local business owners, concessions employees, and the private contractors that work for the federal government.
Three Rivers’s economic growth and destination-based recreational opportunities rely on the traffic that Sequoia-Kings Canyon generates. Almost every traveler who visits Sequoia drives through Three Rivers.
January is the slowest month for local visitation, but tourism has been rebounding in recent years. Although this is better than a park closure on the Fourth of July, in the off-season, it is even more significant for local businesses to not have the tourist gates locked altogether during a month when every dollar counts. And the workers not receiving paychecks from the community’s largest employer, the National Park Service, aren’t going to be spending much money in town either.
While there are no local statistics available, across the country national parks are losing approximately $400,000 daily from fee revenue. During the month of January, national parks normally generate an average of $20 million per day in economic activity, supporting communities across the country.
UPDATE: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks reopened to the public on the morning of Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.
FEDERAL AGENCIES WITH LOCAL LANDS
Three Rivers is an island surrounded by public lands and home to those who work for the federal agencies and support positions. Here is how they are affected:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Lake Kaweah, is unaffected by the partial government shutdown. The Corps of Engineers is funded through the fiscal year.
The three principal appropriation bills that support funding for USACE operations were passed by Congress and signed into law by the president before the beginning of fiscal 2018-2019: Energy and Water, Defense and Military Construction, and Veterans Affairs.
U.S. Forest Service / Bureau of Land Management
The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are experiencing a cutoff in funding. Three Rivers residents won’t feel an impact in recreational pursuits since there are no visitor services such as information centers, restrooms, or trash facilities provided locally by these agencies.
The Salt Creek trails system, which is on BLM land, remains open.
U.S. Geological Survey
The U.S. Geological Survey’s Sequoia Field Station is closed and workers furloughed. Nationwide, only a small number of the agency’s employees are at work, keeping key safety operations running, according to the Department of the Interior website.
The agency has 75 of its 8,032 employees working as needed, mainly to operate the National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado and the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in South Dakota.
Up to 450 employees remain on call in case of natural disasters or spacecraft emergencies. Science is officially on furlough.
Sequoia Parks Conservancy
Cooperating associations that support national parks are suffering financially. The groups depend on private donations as well as revenue from retail sales at visitor centers.
Here is a statement from Savannah Boiano, executive director of Sequoia Parks Conservancy:
“The effects of the shutdown can be seen in the names and faces of Sequoia Parks Conservancy and NPS employees we work with on a daily basis on behalf of our local public lands. Park visitor centers and Pear Lake Winter Hut are closed, and the Conservancy has had to furlough some of our most valuable employees. The SPC Board of Directors is committed to employee wellness during this stressful time… [and] maintaining some benefits for furloughed employees. The Board is focused on investing its current resources in maintaining momentum toward our mission to fund and enable projects and programs that protect, preserve, and provide access to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and USACE Lake Kaweah.
“Although in some areas such as retail sales, we are in suspended animation, as a busy organization, some of us are still working. We expect to hire about 30 summer seasonal employees, and this is the time of year we start that process. We are designing summer inventory, building our calendar of programs and activities, and of course, we are busy fundraising and grant writing for park projects. During the shutdown, we continue to help our Army Corps partners at Lake Kaweah. When the parks reopen to the public, SPC looks forward to working with our park volunteer program to help in any needed cleanup.”
Although retail outlets in the nearby national parks are closed, park supporters may make purchases online on the SPC’s website.
Delaware North Parks Services
Delaware North is the concessioner for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. When the parks closed, so did their facilities that include lodging, food service, and retail sales.
On Delaware North’s website for Sequoia-Kings Canyon reservations, the following statement was issued:
“Please be advised that as of January 3, 2019, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are closed to the public during the government shutdown. This includes all concessions inside the parks including Wuksachi Lodge, John Muir Lodge, Grant Grove Cabins and Restaurant, Lodgepole, and retail outlets.
“Guests with reservations at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park or John Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Cabins in Kings Canyon National Park may contact us at (888) 798-8187 to change their reservation to an alternate date. Otherwise, reservations will be cancelled and deposits refunded.”
UPDATE: As of Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, Delaware North’s Sequoia-Kings Canyon website was again revised to read: “TRAVEL ADVISORY – Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are open during the government shutdown.”
LOCAL RESOURCES TO THE RESCUE
Three Rivers Bread Basket
While the entities that provide the Bread Basket food pantry with provisions receive USDA assistance, both FoodLink and the Central California Food Bank have informed local pantry director Elizabeth LaMar that the Bread Basket, a nonprofit organization, will continue to receive its resupplies.
“I believe we will see an increase in need if the closure continues,” said Elizabeth. “We are working with the Sequoia-Kings Employees Association and doing all we can to get the word out regarding distributions.”
Anyone who would like to donate to this specific need, the Bread Basket is setting up a designated account to assist local federal employees. Elizabeth explained that if funds are left after the closure ends, they will be held for future needs.
“A lot of folks are going to have a hard time getting back on their feet even after they go back to work,” she said.
For local food assistance or information about how to donate, call 288-2603.
Emergency Aid Alliance
The Emergency Aid Alliance is a local nonprofit group that assists residents who are suffering financial hardship. The EAA offers cash assistance on an as-needed basis. For more information or to submit a request for assistance, call (559) 561-4021 or complete the contact form online at http://3r-aid.org/contact/.
Three Rivers Historical Society: A Roundup of Visitors
Here are some observations from Tom Marshall, president of the Three Rivers Historical Society, the volunteer organization that operates the museum/visitor center in Three Rivers:
—International visitors are aware in most cases about the closure of Sequoia National Park but hoped the parks would open by the time they arrived.
—Some international visitors said they heard in their home country news that the shutdown was due to a general strike of the people.
—Out-of-state visitors know about the closure of the local national parks and are disappointed.
—Visitors from the San Joaquin Valley generally are unaware that the parks are closed and don’t seem to know about the government shutdown. But once the word spread that the parks weren’t charging an entrance fee, the local visitor numbers increased a great deal.
“It sure appears that the general population in the Valley doesn’t hear or read about what is going on,” said Tom.
—The most-asked question is “When will Sequoia reopen?”
—Museum staff are answering another frequent question — “Why isn’t the public allowed to enter the national parks?” — by explaining the dilemma of traffic, trash, restrooms, and the few who deface or damage resources.
—Museum volunteers are telling visitors about things to do in Three Rivers. If people want snow, they are being directed to the Shaver Lake area. If they need an alternative route to San Francisco and points north, they are told about the Pacific Coast Highway.