At McGuire-Dix, many arrive only to shut things down
The Philadelphia Inquirer
In New Jersey, the impact of the government shutdown was quickly felt Tuesday morning by tens of thousands of federal civilian employees - including many at the joint base in South Jersey - when they showed up for work and received official furlough notifications.
At Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and National Guard facilities across the state, most workers were given about four hours to shut down any projects they were working on.
At least 951 were furloughed from the Guard while the number at the joint base was still being calculated, officials said.
Nine national parks in New Jersey were closed, and programs to clean up Superfund sites and help the state continue to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Sandy also were expected to be affected.
"We are one of the states that are going to be impacted more than any other state from the government shutdown, and it could not happen at a worse time," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
"People are trying to rebuild from Sandy and we are trying to get our economy moving again," he said. "The closing of national parks, the failure to clean up toxic sites, and slowing down the rebuilding after Sandy are just some of the consequences of the shutdown that are going to hurt the people of New Jersey."
One of the signs of the shutdown was clearly evident on the joint base's website, which carried a simple message: "Due to the government shutdown, this website is not being updated."
The base's Facebook page had more news for workers: "Military members and excepted civilians are expected to continue to work during this time. Non-excepted civilian personnel will be placed in a furlough status.
"The president did sign into law H.R. 3210, which allows the Department of Defense to pay military personnel and our excepted civilians on time and in full.
"Furloughed employees would receive back pay only if specifically appropriated by Congress."
The shutdown left many questions. How long would the base commissary be open? If it closes, how soon will it reopen? Will banks accept federal paychecks after the shutdown?
As it turned out, the commissary was very busy Tuesday, with workers and service members stocking up on groceries before it was scheduled to close at 8 p.m. And paychecks were being honored.
To answer questions about the shutdown, two town hall-style meetings were held - one in the McGuire-Dix portion of the base and another on the Lakehurst side.
"Our civilian personnel office has been compiling the number of those furloughed," said base spokeswoman Angel Lopez. "We need an orderly shutdown, and have to give proper notifications to everyone."
The base "will continue to conduct missions in support of national security and public safety during the shutdown, but other operations and activities will halt," Lopez said.
"Several base facilities such as the Auto Skills Center, Civilian Personnel Office, Community Activities Center, the Flight Deck [community center], youth sports programs, administrative services for family child care, the Dix official mail center, and several of the Civil Engineer Squadron's customer service functions will close," she said.
As the second largest employer in New Jersey, Lopez said, "there is no way to downplay the impact the shutdown will have on the lives of our civilian workforce, and we know that we would not be able to complete the mission without all of our employees."
A furlough plan also was implemented at National Guard facilities across New Jersey, said Army Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Daugherty, a Guard spokesman.
"One of my federal technicians just left," Daugherty said Tuesday afternoon. "He was not thrilled."
Daugherty added that the man "knew there was a chance this could happen, so he and his family prepared. When he left, it kind of felt like a breakup."
The Guard "was hoping the entire crisis was avoidable," Daugherty said. "But it did a nice job of letting everyone know there was a high probability that it would occur.
"People were told to be prepared," he said. "They can seek unemployment.
"We also have resources through our family programs where they can get assistance," he said. "We don't have food pantries but we can help families get care and attention. There are counselors and financial advisers."
Other parts of New Jersey also were affected.
Residents still trying to rebuild after Sandy will receive federal funding that has already been delivered to the state for distribution, Tittel said. But other money from agencies such as FEMA will likely be delayed.
"Nature brought the storm but Congress is making this disaster worse," Tittel said.