Visitors peek into a window at the visitor’s center after they found out sites at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park were closed after Congress failed to avert a government shutdown on Saturday, January 20, 2018. Many federal government services ground to halt and some historic attractions - including Martin Luther King Jr.'s childhood home - were closed in Georgia on Saturday.  HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia feels the pain from federal government shutdown

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home in Atlanta closed Saturday. So did the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father preached.

Motorists were blocked from entering Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. And Fort Stewart, an economic powerhouse for coastal Georgia with thousands of employees, halted some of its operations.

Georgia was feeling the pain from the federal government shutdown, brought on by Congress’ failure to reach a short-term budget deal Friday.

But there were other less tangible consequences playing out across the Peach State that may not be fully understood until after the government reopens. The shutdown, for example, is socking federal workers in their pocketbooks, pummeling their morale and making it impossible for them to plan, those interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said.

On Saturday, Candy Burns Waylock of Alpharetta was getting ready to head back to Atlanta from a weekend trip so she’d be ready to report for work Monday at the federal Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala. It turns out, she won’t be going. The government shutdown will cancel her plans and cost her a paycheck.

“We hate the word nonessential,” said Waylock, a contract employee who leads risk and crisis communications training at the center, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “When everyone talks about ‘it’s no big deal, it’s a paid vacation for people,’ it’s not for contractors. We do lose money.”

The shutdown also plunged federal employee morale to an “all-time low,” said Everett B. Kelly, the national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ Southeast region.

“We want to see some permanence,” said Kelly, whose organization represents 60,000 federal employees in Georgia. “But we evidently have a problem. The problem is our elected officials have got to learn to work together and not vote along party lines. We need elected officials concerned about a working America and not the politics.”

Ceretta Smith, a U.S. Army veteran and president of AFGE Local 2017, which represents about 4,600 workers at Fort Gordon, said employees were being asked to report to work Monday, when they will be told — if the shutdown continues — whether they will have to work without pay, or whether they will be furloughed. Even if Congress passes a continuing budget resolution to fund the government, it will not be a cure-all for the low morale the shutdown has caused, she said.

“This shutdown has such a negative impact in many different areas,” Smith said. “To take people’s pay away from them and shut the government down is heartless and senseless.”

Georgia is home to nearly 4 percent of the federal government’s workforce, or 71,622 employees, according to the U.S Office of Personnel Management.

Further, the government meltdown created uncertainty for “Dreamers,” or young immigrants who were brought to America without authorization. Thousands live in Georgia. Senate Democrats sought protections for “Dreamers” and stalled the temporary spending measure Friday.

At issue is an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which grants those young immigrants temporary work permits and deportation deferrals. Blasting the program as an end run around Congress, the Trump administration announced last year that it would phase out DACA by March. Georgia has been home to as many as 21,600 DACA recipients.

Sumbul Siddiqui, an Agnes Scott College graduate who lives in the Atlanta area and works as a medical scribe, said her DACA status is set to expire in September. She hopes Congress will create a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 689,800 DACA recipients. Her younger brother is among them. Two of her siblings are U.S. citizens.

“We still don’t know what is going to happen to us,” said Siddiqui, an immigrant of Pakistani descent who was brought to America when she was 4 years old. “It’s about being separated from my family. It’s about whether I am going to be able to keep working, whether I am going to be able to drive.”

Frustration over the shutdown boiled over Saturday at a south Atlanta rally organized on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. One activist after another blasted Trump and Congress for failing to strike a deal before the Friday deadline.

“For years we heard it would happen. Now it is. This has everything to do with DACA,” Melissa Lach of Dahlonega said. “They need to cut a deal with Democrats. It has to make better sense than shutting down the government.”

Marisol Estrada, an Armstrong State University graduate who was brought here from Mexico when she was 5 years old, exhorted the crowd to keep it up.

“Trump is the reason there’s no permanent solution to DACA,” she said. “My call to action is for you guys to please continue fighting — and please keep calling. The government is shut down for a reason. We have power. We just need to act on it.”

There could also be consequences for Georgia state government workers. On Friday, Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration sent state agencies a memo letting them know they would not get additional federal funds if the shutdown continued.

This could mean furloughs for state employees who are paid partly with federal money. This year, Georgia is expecting about $14 billion in federal funding for various state programs, mostly to provide health care and school nutrition programs. Roughly one-third of state government spending comes from the federal government.

“For state employees paid in whole or largely in part by federal fund sources impacted by the shutdown, a lack of available funding may necessitate that these employees be put on furlough until the budget impasse is resolved,” Teresa MacCartney, Deal’s budget director, wrote in the memo.

In Atlanta on Saturday, a few people wandered the grounds of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, trying to figure out what to do during the shutdown.

“According to the internet, it said everything would be open, even with the shutdown,” said Aric Dupre, who traveled from Cincinnati for a weekend vacation with his wife. It was their first trip to Atlanta. “It’s disappointing. We have other plans, but this was going to be our whole morning.”

Meanwhile, the shutdown prompted furious finger-pointing on Capitol Hill.

“My community is suffering because Republicans were so obsessed with handing tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest that they forgot their responsibility to the American people,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Lithonia Democrat. “Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House, but they couldn’t get it together to do something as basic as keeping government open.”

Georgia’s two Republican U.S. senators, voted for the short-term budget bill Friday.

“This Schumer Shutdown is absolutely ridiculous,” Sen. David Perdue said, referring to the Senate Democratic leader, Charles Schumer of New York. “It is totally irresponsible for the Democrats to use government funding as a bargaining chip.”

Sen. Johnny Isakson said it was “time to stop the theatrics and get to the business of governing.”

“Shutting down the government is the wrong solution,” he said, “and always causes bigger problems in the end.”

The January 20th, 2018 edition of Georgia Legislative Week in Review with Mark Neisse, Maya Prabhu and the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

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Staff writers James Salzer, Greg Bluestein, Dan Klepal, Scott Trubey and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.

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