Many federal government services ground to halt and some historic attractions — including Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home — were closed in Georgia Saturday after Congress failed to reach a short-term budget deal, prompting furious finger pointing on Capitol Hill.
The Senate needed 60 votes to advance the temporary spending measure late Friday night but got only 50, as Democrats sought protections for “Dreamers,” or immigrants who were brought here as children without authorization. The failure to reach a compromise triggered the first government shutdown since 2013.
Important programs are continuing. For example, Social Security checks, Medicare reimbursements and food stamps are supposed to continue flowing. And the mail will continue to be delivered. Meanwhile, many other services have been halted.
Here is what is happening in Georgia as a result of the shutdown:
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 they will have to work without pay, or if they will be furloughed. Even if Congress passes a continuing budget resolution, 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.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s flu tracking program was scheduled to be suspended in the event of a shutdown, according to federal contingency plans. The Georgia Department of Public Health will continue to track flu within the state, but it will be unable to get CDC help in confirming flu samples, tracking the illness’ progress around the state’s borders and seeking CDC scientists’ expertise on the issue. The federal health plans were reported by Kaiser Health News.
Nationwide, federal health funding contributes about a third of the funding for the Meals on Wheels program for elderly people, and federal officials said that would have to stop during a shutdown. The offices of Meals on Wheels Atlanta and other Georgia meals on wheels programs did not respond to requests for comment Saturday. But, in general, the programs may have to cut back by reducing meals or delivery days or the number of people who get food, KHN reported.
At a south Atlanta rally organized on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, frustration over the shutdown boiled over. One activist after another blasted Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress for failing to strike a deal before the midnight deadline.
“For years we heard it would happen. Now it is. This has everything to do with DACA,” Melissa Lach of Dahlonega said of the Obama era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “They need to cut a deal with Democrats. It has to make better sense than shutting down the government.”
Marisol Estrada, an immigrant who was brought here from Mexico when she was five years old, exhorted the crowd to keep it up.
“Trump is the reason there’s no permanent solution to DACA. 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.”
Everett B. Kelly, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ southeast region, said the federal employees his organization represents expect Congress to stop playing politics with people’s lives. AFGE represents about 60,000 federal employees in Georgia, he said, and has its regional headquarters Clayton County. Kelly said the shutdown has plunged employee morale to an “all time low.”
“We want to see some permanence,” Kelly said. “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.”
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has hundreds of employees in metro Atlanta, said it will continue only “exempt” activities such as air traffic control and safety inspections, adding: “There will be no impact to safety or safety oversight for the traveling public.”
Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home in Atlanta, historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and the visitor center are closed at the national park. Freedom Hall, which is privately owned, remained open Saturday for visitors to take in exhibits about Rosa Parks, Ghandi and King and his wife, Coretta. Employees at the site said attendance had dropped dramatically for a Saturday.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service announced it has suspended a federal work authorization program called E-Verify. While it is offline, employers won’t be able to enroll in the free online program or use it to verify whether newly hired employees are eligible to work in the U.S. This development is particularly problematic in Georgia because state law requires private employers with more than 10 workers to use the program. Also, all city, county and state government agencies in Georgia must make their contractors use the program.
Motorists have been barred from entering Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.
Screening at Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints at At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is continuing. TSA officers at checkpoints, along with baggage screeners, canine teams and air marshals, are reporting to work as scheduled, according to TSA spokesman Mark Howell, though support and administrative TSA workers not deemed essential are subject to furloughs.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park remained open Saturday morning. People were spotted jogging through the park and climbing the mountain.
The National Park Service, which operates some popular historic attractions in Georgia, said its parks would “remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures.”
“However, services that require staffing and maintenance, such as campgrounds and full-service restrooms, will not be operating,” National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum said. “The American public and especially our veterans who come to our nation's capital will find war memorials and open-air parks open to the public.”
Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, an economic powerhouse for coastal Georgia that employs nearly 4,400 civilian employees and nearly 19,700 uniformed service members, announced Saturday that military personnel would not be furloughed, though some services would be stopped.
For example, the Soldier Family Assistance Center, Survivor Outreach Services, Employment Readiness, Relocation Assistance and Civilian Personnel Advisory Center services were halted Saturday.
“A limited number of pre-designated Department of the Army employees will continue operations and provide installation support,” the military installations said in a statement. “All Department of the Army civilians and contractors will report to work Monday, Jan. 22, and fill out required paperwork prior to being furloughed.”
At the same time, the military emphasized it is ready to deploy troops, if needed.
“3rd Infantry Division's ability to deploy Soldiers in support of worldwide missions remains intact,” Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield said in their statement Saturday. “1st Armored Brigade will continue deployment preparation activities as scheduled.”
Officials at Fort Benning, a sprawling military installation near Columbus, said this week that a “limited number of pre-designated personnel” would continue working and the rest would “maintain close contact with their supervisors for specific up-to-date instructions.”
Meanwhile, contingency plans for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has a huge footprint in Atlanta, show the agency is supposed to furlough about 8,400 of its employees – or 65 percent – during shutdowns.
Georgia’s two Republican senators, who voted for the short-term budget bill Friday, blamed Democrats for its demise.
“This Schumer Shutdown is absolutely ridiculous,” Sen. David Perdue said, referring to Sen. 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.”
Schumer called the situation “Trumpshutdown.”
“There is no one who deserves the blame for the position we find ourselves in more than President Trump,” Schumer wrote on Twitter.
Trump took his own shots on Twitter.
“Democrats are far more concerned with illegal immigrants than they are with our great military or safety at our dangerous southern border,” Trump tweeted. “They could have easily made a deal but decided to play shutdown politics instead.”
Check back here for more developments throughout the day.
Branden Camp and staff writers Greg Bluestein, Dan Klepal, Maya Prabhu, Scott Trubey and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this report.
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