Tuesday morning, the nation awoke to a government shutdown as Republicans and Democrats came to a standoff on the federal budget, and local officials expressed their disappointment in the turn of events.
“We get our heads together down here when we have got an issue and we work it out,” said Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed. “We reach a consensus and keep on going.
“That’s the thing that is so disappointing about this. One side is proposing and the other side is saying, ‘We’re not even going to talk about it.’ That’s not the way to run good government, I think.”
Pembroke Mayor Mary Warnell called the shutdown, “just the biggest mess,” and Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler said gridlock is “killing this country.”
“The shutdown just tells me you’ve got people up there in D.C. who are more interested in party lines than in running the government,” Fowler said. “It’s not fair to the American people. You’ve got a bunch up there on the far right and the far left and there aren’t enough of them in between.”
Thousands of federal workers across the country were sent home Tuesday. Only those government workers whose duties are considered “essential” have remained on the job.
At Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field, numerous services have been canceled or modified. National parks and museums are closed, and agencies like the Environmental Protection Division and NASA effectively would be shut down, according to the Associated Press.
While a temporary consensus was not reached on the budget, shortly before midnight Monday, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill ensuring military-service members would be paid during a shutdown. According to U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston’s office, this bill to protect service members’ pay first was proposed by Kingston, R-Ga.
Soldiers and Army civilians trying to get to work at Fort Stewart discovered major traffic delays Tuesday at the few access control points that were open due to the government shutdown.
Traffic was backed up on Highway 84 in Hinesville from Gen. Stewart Way, and it was backed up going north and south on Highway 84 at Gen. Screven Way. Traffic was also backed up on E.G. Miles Parkway to Airport Road.
According to Fort Stewart chief of public communications Kevin Larson, the following gates will remain open during the government shutdown:
- Gate 1 (Gen. Screven Way), 24/7
- Gate 4 (Vanguard Road), 24/7
- Gate 5 (Gulick Avenue), 24/7
- Gate 7C (Airport Road), 5 a.m.-4 p.m., Mon.-Fri., Commercial vehicles only
Larson said to expect normal operations for emergency services such as fire and 911, Department of Defense Education Activity schools, and Family and Morale, Welfare & Recreation facilities.
He said the commissary would only be open on Tuesday so that perishables can be sold. It will remain closed for the duration of the shutdown, he said.
Burnsed, Warnell and Fowler said they worry about the personal and financial impact the shutdown could have on those who depend on the government for their livelihood.
“I think from the standpoint we have a lot of civil service employees at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield who live in Bryan County and Richmond Hill and Pembroke, those folks are probably going to be impacted and I feel for them greatly,” Burnsed said. “When your paycheck stops, it affects everything else that’s going on in your life. I certainly hope the shutdown doesn’t run that long, but who knows?”
Both also believe a prolonged shutdown could impact the local economy. Fowler said Congress’ inability to find common ground is worrisome.
“I can understand standing on principle at times, but I don’t know what the thinking is up there,” he said. “It’s not what’s best for this country.”
Warnell also raised the possibility that grants and federal funding for local governments could be impacted by the shutdown.
“It certainly will have a ripple effect from Washington all the way down to the smallest city,” she said. “Hopefully this is just a short term. I think that’s the main thing we can ask for I that this is short term. But it’s unfortunate we’ve reached that point where our government cannot sit down and discuss something and reach a compromise.”
News that members of Congress will continue to draw paychecks while some civil service workers face the loss of pay isn’t helping the situation, either, officials say.
“I know that burns folks badly,” Burnsed said. “Congress already has the lowest rating in its history and they keep doing things that don’t help their ratings at all.”
Burnsed said he’s emailed representatives but hasn’t gotten a response. He said Congressman Jack Kingston is frustrated by the impasse and so are local leaders, who can’t do a thing about it other than express their opinions.
“It’s an issue that’s obviously beyond our control,” Burnsed said, noting his message to government is to find a solution.
“All we can do is write letters or call our congressmen and just say, ‘Please folks, get your heads together and come up with some real solutions that help the people you’re elected to serve,’” he continued. “That’s what you’re elected to do — serve the people and take care of the business of government. When you shut down government you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
According to Fort Stewart command information chief Jim Jeffcoat, the post exchange will remain open at this time.
Winn Army Community Hospital public affairs officer Michelle Gordon said the hospital will “sustain current services and activities” this week. Clinics will be open and previously scheduled appointments will not be cancelled, and pharmacy, labs, surgeries and radiology will continue to provide services, she said.
If the shutdown continues beyond this week, she said activities will be reassessed.
Due to the shutdown, Gordon said this week’s drive-thru flu clinic has been postponed and rescheduled for Oct. 16-17.
On a side note, she said the new Post Exchange refill pharmacy will now fill prescriptions from civilian health providers in addition to serve as the primary refill prescription location. She said patients will also be offered an opportunity to drop-off prescriptions and pick them up later.