Shutdown's effects already rippling at Marine base in Arizona
The (Yuma, Ariz.) Sun
Far away from the political trenches on Capitol Hill, the negative effects of the federal government shutdown will be felt in Yuma, Ariz. – and the longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely the local economy will suffer.
About 600 civilian employees and an additional 1,000 contractors at Yuma Proving Ground, as well as a majority of the hundreds of civilian employees and contractors at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, are out of work indefinitely until the impasse in Washington is concluded.
At YPG, all military testing operations ceased on Tuesday and will not resume until the government shutdown has ended. That means essential systems being tested for future conflicts will be put on the shelf for now.
During the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, such testing “saved hundreds of American lives... and prevented an untold number of injuries and wounds,” Chuck Wullenjohn, YPG public affairs officer, told the Yuma Sun Tuesday. “We are really important to the military, and as of today that national defense mission is not being carried out at YPG. It is going to affect the Army down the road.”
Due to the shutdown, several facilities at MCAS Yuma will be closed indefinitely. These include the youth activity center, the school age day care, the library, the Oasis Pool, the movie theater, the bowling alley, and the Commissary.
Federal employees assigned to essential services such as security and fire protection at both YPG and MCAS Yuma, as well as active duty members of the military, will remain at their posts throughout the duration of the shut down.
Active duty members of the military will continue to receive paychecks this month, thanks to last-minute legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama before the shutdown went into effect. Civilians required to work during the shutdown will receive their pay retroactively once the lapse in appropriations ends.
Civilians who are furloughed may receive retroactive pay if Congress authorizes a continuing resolution or appropriation in the coming fiscal year, but that is not guaranteed.
In the mean time, the furloughed civilians won’t be taking home any income.
“It is a big question mark in peoples’ minds,” said Wullenjohn. “Obviously people need the money, especially young families (and) people with major mortgage payments. Without any income, people have been asking questions” about if they will be able to apply for unemployment, or even if they should take up a second job “because people don’t know how long this is going to last.”
Since the shut down comes on the heals of mandatory unpaid furloughs for government civilian workers as part of sequestration earlier this year, some are even more economically vulnerable.
“I think people feel a little bit that they are being bounced around by what has been going on,” Wullenjohn said. “Just a couple of months ago we were dealing with sequestration where we were furloughed one day per week for six weeks. And then just a short time later we go through this – we are now furloughed again” for an indefinite period.
The scope extends beyond just those who work on military bases because much of the money they spend on goods and services in Yuma is evaporating, and will continue to diminish the longer the shut down lasts.
“Certainly it has an impact,” said Ann Walker, Yuma Visitor’s Bureau media relations specialist. “It has an immediate impact on the hospitality industry because a lot of the business travelers that come to Yuma are coming for reasons related to the military. If they are closing down all the testing at YPG, that means all the folks who would otherwise be staying in Yuma” and purchasing goods and services “are not going to be able to do that. All those things add up.”
The Bureau of Land Management has also been affected by the shut down, although Yuma area BLM officials were not able to comment on the issue Tuesday. About 10,200 BLM employees out of about 10,800 are being furloughed. This has resulted in the closure of the Mittry Lake Wildlife Area and the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area as well as the Cibola, Imperial and Kofa National Wildlife Refuges.
“BLM land becomes really important here in the next month or so as our snow birds start arriving because a lot of folks like to camp at those long term camping areas,” Walker said. “It is a great, cheap way to get a vacation in the sun if you’ve got a self contained RV. Hopefully this is something that will be resolved before that happens.”
The closure of BLM lands also limits boat access to the Colorado River, although boat launch sites are still available at Fisher’s Landing and from Picacho State Recreation Area in California. Both remain open because they are not administered by the federal government.
Despite the closure of federal recreation facilities and public lands, Yuma area residents and visitors can still find recreational opportunities at one of the city’s many public parks, at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, 201 N. 4th Ave., or at the Yuma Territorial Prison, 1 Prison Hill Road.
“Yuma city parks are still open,” Walker said. “You can go out and walk along the river, ride the bike paths and enjoy the beautiful weather that we are having.”
Additionally, Arizona state trust lands including the Barry M. Goldwater Range will remain open to off-road enthusiasts who have proper permits.
And despite the approximately 3,311 of 5,077 employees being furloughed by the Bureau of Reclamation, the government agency will still be able to deliver Colorado River water to be used by area farmers - water especially essential to agriculture companies this time of year as winter crops are planted.
BOR will also continue monitoring the safety of dams, with emergency and law enforcement personnel on duty for the protection of facilities.
Other federal employees including Border Patrol agents, federal prison guards and air traffic controllers, will work without pay during the shutdown.
However, mail will continue to be delivered door to door by the United States Postal Service.