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Shutdown takes toll on area

From national parks to military bases and Social Security offices, the partial government shutdown rippled through the Fredericksburg area.

PARKS OFF-LIMITS

This time of year, the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park should be crawling with tourists, joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists.

But on Tuesday, hours after the shutdown took effect, the four area battlefield parks were deserted, except for a skeleton staff of law-enforcement rangers.

The park’s through roads, such as the north end of Lee Drive in Fredericksburg, remain open for traffic, but parking lots and other entrances are blocked.

“We’re really just following through today, getting all areas of the park secured,” said Lucy Lawliss, superintendent of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania park, which encompasses about 7,600 acres.

There are signs up warning people not to park on road shoulders where vehicles may be ticketed. Visitor centers are closed.

“Technically, our trails are closed,” said Lawliss, who said she’s sympathetic to visitors used to walking, jogging and exercising their dogs in the green expanses of the park.

With mild and sunny fall days, the battlefields are a destination, especially on weekends. Also, tour groups charter buses for guided tours with rangers. Those will be rescheduled, Lawliss said, noting that was one of the last-minute tasks that had to be addressed Tuesday morning at Chatham Manor, the parks’ headquarters.

“You know, we feel for all of our visitors who made plans to come to our parks, and we hope for the shortest possible shutdown,” she said.

Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County was going through the same drill: closing with a skeleton staff left behind to look after things until Congress restores appropriations.

Also, visitor centers and all attractions along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are closed.

The National Parks Conservation Association said that more than 21,000 national park employees were expected to be furloughed, and that about 750,000 visitors typically visit national parks in October. It costs local communities some $30 million each day the national parks are closed.

SOCIAL SECURITY WORRIES

The atmosphere was tense in the Social Security office in Spotsylvania Tuesday morning as a handful of people waited anxiously for the limited services the office is offering because of the government shutdown.

Posted on the door outside was a list detailing exactly what services the office at Cosner’s Corner will provide during the shutdown, and which ones will have to wait until Congress reaches a budget agreement.

Bradrick Bennett, who works for the Fredericksburg Army Recruiting Station, brought a new recruit to the Social Security office for some paperwork, but was turned away by the security guard because the service he was there for is among those suspended.

“I just hope that [Congress] can come to an agreement and make something happen. This has impacted a lot of people,” Bennett said. “We’ll just do the best we can to go about our daily operations.”

Samantha Barker stopped by to see if she would still get her monthly check.

“It affects a lot of people,” Barker said. “You can’t survive without income, and if someone is disabled and can’t physically work, that’s all they’re going by—their income check.”

Barker and everyone else expecting checks will receive them in spite of the shutdown. Other services, including issuing or replacing Social Security cards, replacing Medicare cards and issuing proof of income letters, are suspended.

SOMBER RESIGNATION

At one area military installation, workers gathered in the morning with supervisors, who passed out furlough letters to employees who are not exempt from the shutdown. Most of them knew ahead of time who would be working, and who would not.

One worker, who received a letter and asked that his name not be used, said the mood was one of “somber resignation.”

The longtime civil servant said, “Federal employees feel like they have been a whipping dog for the last three years. It wears on morale. You sense that people don’t value your service and the work that you do.”

He said, “Everyone recognizes that the private sector had it rough, too, during the recession, but with [federal] pay freezes for several years now, and sequestration,” he said, government employees are suffering more than people know. The staff there gathered for one last meeting and headed home.

That same routine played out at the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren, Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort A.P. Hill, which also announced cutbacks and changes in on-base services.

FARMERS HIT, TOO

C&T Produce, a family farm in White Oak in Stafford, said on its Facebook page that the Friday farmers market held at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington is canceled, and will be closed until further notice. The market features produce from 14 farms and vendors from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“I wonder if the lawmakers knew that this would affect the farmers, not just in [money] lost from government employees not spending, but in markets not able to open,” the post said. “Thanks, guys farmers work on a tight budget. We can’t miss too many markets.”

AND A PRAYER

St. George’s Episcopal Church on Princess Anne Street in Fredericksburg held a brief, informal time of prayer and silent meditation Tuesday night for those affected by the shutdown.

“We do have people in our community and our parish that are anxious about this development,” said the Rev. Pam Webb, interim rector at St. George’s. “We needed a time to come together and to pray for those who are anxious.”

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

rdennen@freelancestar.com

SOCIAL SECURITY

Social Security field offices will only offer limited in-office services as a result of the government shutdown.

What the Social Security Office will do during shutdown:

  • Help apply for benefits.
  • Assist in requesting an appeal.
  • Change address or direct deposit information.
  • Accept reports of death.
  • Verify or change citizenship status.
  • Replace a lost or missing Social Security payment.
  • Issue a critical payment.
  • Change a representative payee.
  • Process a change in living arrangement or income (SSI recipients only).
  • All online services.

What the Social Security Office will NOT do:

  • Issue new or replacement Social Security cards.
  • Replace Medicare cards.
  • Issue a proof of income letter.
  • Any other service that is not listed under the above list.

 

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