Trips, local families impacted by federal shutdown

5 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — Sharon Mason of Houlton had hoped to spend the Christmas school break traveling with her three children to the various historic sites in Washington, D.C.

“It was a spur of the moment trip that we started talking about when we got all of our family members together at my grandparents house in New Hampshire. We were sitting around with my children and my sisters and brothers, and we realized that a number of the younger children had not seen the historic sites, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument,” she said. “We talked about taking a road trip, maybe even taking a few extra days and traveling to some of the Civil War sites such as Gettysburg.”

Reluctantly, she said Monday, they cancelled their trip because of media reports and pictures of overflowing trash bins and locked public toilets due to federal workers being furloughed as part of the partial government shutdown.

“It is too bad, because our children and nieces and nephews were excited about it,” she said as the shutdown stretched into its 17th day. “But now I guess it is something we will probably do this summer.”

At the same time, she noted, President Donald Trump’s statement in an interview last week that the shutdown could last months longer if he did not secure financing for the U.S. border wall with Mexico that was a major campaign promise of his during the 2016 election. Trump promised voters that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Since the shutdown began on Dec. 21, brimming trash cans, overflowing toilets, and trespassing has been reported at many national parks and historic sites, according to officials from the federal Department of the Interior. Garbage has piled up at California’s Joshua Tree National Park, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and in  Lassen National Forest in California. On Sunday, officials with the Department of Interior announced that they would dip into funds collected from entrance fees to finance additional police personnel, maintenance and clean up.

Finances also have become a concern for families of affected federal employees.

Shannon Morrison of Presque Isle said Monday that she is working to scale back expenses even more for herself and her three children, as their father, who works for the Department of Agriculture in Idaho, is “burning quickly through his savings” after being furloughed.

“I work and he has some savings, but he didn’t expect the shutdown to begin with, let alone for it to go on for this long,” she said. “Thankfully he is a good carpenter, so he has been able to bring in some extra cash there, but to hear the president on the news projecting that this could go on another month or even a year? To me, that is infuriating. There is no need for this stalemate when lives and families are at risk.”

A number of Native American tribes also are being hit hard by the shut down. The federal government funds or provides many services to the tribes, including crucial law enforcement, healthcare programs, and road maintenance.

Clarissa Sabattis, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, said that the tribe hadn’t experienced any issues yet, but that if the shutdown continued much longer, “it will undoubtedly have an impact on federal grant funds that we receive for many of our programs.”