Federal workers who were home for the holidays are bracing to spend the first few days of the New Year, and maybe longer, away from the office as the federal government’s funding impasse seemed destined to stretch into a second week.
The partial government shutdown officially began Dec. 27, the first regularly scheduled workday since Dec. 22, when funding lapsed for dozens of agencies and several Cabinet-level departments, affecting around 800,000 workers. Around half of those workers remain on the job, working unpaid and unable to take time off, while the rest have been furloughed.
Flathead National Forest Public Affairs Officer Janette Turk is among those furloughed employees, as are most of the other 205 permanent staffers she works with. Turk said around 20 employees, including those working at the avalanche center and local rangers, were exempted and working unpaid, although all ranger stations in the district are closed. The forest service is able to honor all cabin reservations that have already been made through www.reservations.gov, and those cabins are being monitored by the skeleton staff still working.
“You can still recreate on public lands,” Turk said. “As usual, you want to be safe on public lands. We don’t have a lot of staff patrolling, so use caution.”
Turk said that while employees have received back pay following past government shutdowns, back pay is not guaranteed, and that Flathead National Forest employees like her are now eligible to file for unemployment, something she was still considering when reached at home on Dec. 28.
“Many of our employees live paycheck-to-paycheck and do not have a lot of reserve to sustain them for long periods of time,” she said.
Since the shutdown began, the Flathead National Forest’s website and social media pages have not been updated to reflect current conditions, and a similar online blackout has hit Glacier National Park, where a red banner advising visitors that park access “may change without notice” is splashed across the top of the www.nps.gov website. Several other national parks across the country are closed completely as a result of the shutdown.
Inside Glacier Park, no visitor services are being provided, meaning restrooms are closed, trash is not being collected, and facilities and road maintenance crews are not working. Vault toilets are open but not being maintained and plows are clearing only residential areas. Emergency and rescue operations are also limited.
The National Parks Conservation Association issued an update to an earlier statement on Dec. 22, once the shutdown became official, saying, “This budget impasse undermines protection for our most treasured national and cultural resources and threatens many local economies that depend on our parks.”
More and more government offices could be affected if the shutdown continues, including at the Environmental Protection Agency, where officials were planning to initiate shutdown procedures when their funding ran out at midnight on Friday, Dec. 28, according to multiple reports.
President Donald Trump demanded funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border during budget negotiations in December and has not budged from that request since the shutdown began, blaming Democrats for the impasse despite Republican control of the U.S. House and Senate. Federal employees will receive 24 hours notice to return to work once the shutdown ends, though that is not expected until after Democrats take control of the House on Jan. 3.