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Day One of Shutdown Provokes Frustration in Maine
10/01/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Day one of the federal government shutdown provoked widespread frustration and uncertainty today, as its effects began to be felt throughout Maine. A U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides food assistance to needy women and infants is set run out of money in 15 days. Low-income Mainers who depend on heating aid from Washington face a delay in finding out how much help they'll be able to count on this winter. Federal employees across the state have started receiving furlough notices. And, as Jay Field reports, Acadia National Park has been forced to officially shut down key roads, hiking trails, restrooms, concessions and other services.

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Day One of Shutdown Provokes Frustration in Maine
Originally Aired: 10/1/2013 5:30 PM

Acadia 1

An unknown commentator weighs in on the effects of the government shutdown.

This is the sound of the government shutting down. (Sound of padlock being fastened)

That's Stuart West, snapping shut a padlock on a gate running across the Cadillac entrance to the Park Loop Road. West, Acadia's chief ranger says this time is different than sequestration back in the spring, when this popular park artery remained closed to cars for several weeks, but paved roads, carriage roads and other trails were open to cyclists and hikers.

"Early in the year, the government wasn't shut down," West says. "Paved roads, carriage roads and hiking trails are all closed."

As are the Jordan Pond House, park restrooms and all concessions and other services. But as of now, Superintendent Len Bobinchock says park officials have no plans to go trail to trail or road to road in an effort to remove people who venture off into the park anyway.

"The park is officially closed," he says. "And yes, it's true that you can access some of trail heads and carriage roads, if someone were to be injured, it could be a long time before someone is available to help them. We certainly don't recommend people using the park when it's closed."

Shortly after this interview, much of the park staff that carry out rescue missions and other day-to-day functions received furlough notices. So did approximately 280 military technicians with the National Guard and 2,800 federal workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

"I am actually one of the individuals that is being affected by Congress's refusal to do the people's business," says John Joyal. Joyal trains workers who repair submarines at the naval shipyard. When he got to work, Joyal got a letter: He's being furloughed until the shutdown is resolved. Only people with jobs in certain categories, like those deemed critical to national security, are staying on.

"Repairing our nation's submarines - I thought that was a little bit, kind of, in line with national security," he says. "I could've retired two years ago. So, they screw with my benefits too much more, I might do just that."

Air traffic controllers, mail carriers and active duty military personel will remain on the job. And some key federal programs are being protected from cutbacks due to the shutdown. Social Security and Medicare payments will continue, as will Supplemental Nutritional Assistance, or SNAP, benefits for food support.

Other federal programs, though, are in a more precarious position. "We're hoping this shutdown is short. We provide services to about 24,500 women and infants and children, under the age of 5, per month," says Lisa Hodgkins, who runs the Women, Infants and Children's Nutrition Program at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Hodgkins says the program has enough funding to operate through the end of October.

Over at the Maine Housing Authority, officials are worried about the cold weather right around the corner. The authority runs the federally-funded low income heating assistance program. The shutdown means the U.S. Department of Energy has to hold off on giving Maine officials a quote on how much aid the state can expect to get this winter, throwing the program into a temporary state of uncertainty.

Meantime, businesses in Bar Harbor that depend on tourist visits to Acadia for revenue are also worried. "We've worked really hard to grow our shoulder season," says Chris Fogg, who runs the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and was a guest on MPBN Radio's Maine Calling program Tuesday.

"This is a great time to be here: It's a beautiful sunny day. The leaves are changing and have dynamic color. And to have the national park closed is pretty disappointing," Fogg said.

Fogg says Bar Harbor is scheduled to have 41 cruise ship visits this October. He says officials are already scrambling to come up with other ways to get visitors out of leaf peeping tours, if the government shutdown continues. For tourism-related buisnesses in the region, though, the stakes couldn't be higher. Many are still coping with the early spring losses in revenue that came when Acadia opened its main roads late due to sequestration.

Photos: Jay Field


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