Michigan feeling the pinch of federal shutdown

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — As the partial federal government stretches into its third week, Michigan is feeling some effects as agencies with offices in the state have ground to a halt. 

At least two of Michigan's five national parks — Keweenaw National Historic Park in Calumet and North Country National Scenic Trail Offices in Lowell — are closed due to the partial government shutdown. Isle Royale National Park is closed for the winter, but the Houghton Visitor Center there is also now closed due to the shutdown. 

This photo provided by Dakota Snider shows a road lined with trash in Yosemite National Park, California.

The National Park Service warns on its website that access to other national parks that have remained opened during the partial shutdown "may change without notice." The agency has warned "there will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services, such as restrooms, trash collection, facilities, or road maintenance" for most parks that have remained open.  

Elsewhere, Transportation Security Administration workers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and other airports are at risk of missing their next paycheck on Jan. 11. TSA workers fretting they won't be paid have been calling in sick in what the agency dubs "call outs," a problem that so far does not seem to be affecting screening operations. 

Michael Bilello, TSA Assistant Administrator for Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, said the agency is closely monitoring the situation. He noted that TSA workers were paid on time at the end of December. 

"Call outs began over the holiday period and have increased, but are causing minimal impact given there are 51,739 employees supporting the screening process," Bilello said. "Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change. Wait times may be affected depending on the number of call outs.

"To date, however, screening wait times remain well within TSA standards," Bilelllo continued. "Yesterday, TSA screened over 2.2 million passengers. Overall, 99.8 percent waited less than 30 minutes. TSA is grateful to the agents who show up to work, remain focused on the mission and respectful to the traveling public as they continue the important work necessary to secure the nation’s transportation systems.

Additionally, Federal Aviation Administration officials were delayed in investigating a plane crash in Saginaw County, leading local police officials to tape off the scene of the accident in the hopes of preserving evidence.

"Both the FAA and NTSB share accident investigation responsibilities," the FAA said in a statement provided to The Detroit News. "During this shutdown, both agencies have retained essential personnel to assess accidents in order to make a determination regarding the need to recall investigators.  These assessments are based on all available information gathered from local authorities, law enforcement, witnesses, airport personnel, etc. at the time of the accident.  

"To this end, agency participation is limited to emergency essential activities which are defined as activities that protect life and property in which there is some reasonable likelihood that either or both would be compromised to some significant degree by the delay in the performance of an agency function," the FAA statement continued. 

The FAA noted that it can authorize specific investigative work as emergency essential activity in cases were there "major accidents involving significant casualties and certain other accidents when failure to proceed with the investigation creates a significant risk to transportation safety." The agency added, despite local police concerns about accident site security, "the wreckage has been recovered and moved to a secure salvage facility for subsequent investigation once investigators return." 

Coast Guard officials say uniform military officers are unsure if they will be paid on Jan. 15, while civilians who work with the agency have been furloughed. 

"The focus is on the main primary missions such as search and rescues, any lost and founds and law enforcement activities,"  Petty Officer Brian McCrum of the Coast Guard's Public Affairs Office in Cleveland said in an interview with The Detroit News. "The things that will be put off are trainings for things like fishery maintenance." 

McCrum said he and other Coast Guard employees were paid as scheduled at the end of 2018, but he said there's uncertain about his next scheduled paycheck on Jan. 15. 

"We're normally paid on the first and fifthteenth," he said. "We were paid on the 31st because the 1st was New Year's Day. We don't know from here on out. The 15th is not not guaranteed if there's no resolution. We can expect back pay, we've been told." 

With situations like McCrum's in mind, Wayne State University has begun offering financial assistance to students who have been impacted by the partial government shutdown. 

"It's going to be determined on a case by case basis, depending on the situation," Matt Lockwood, director of communications for Wayne State, told The News. "It could look like waiving a late fee, emergency loans or setting up student on a payment plan to allow them to continue on with their classes and not interrupt their studies." 

Lockwood said this is the first time Wayne State has made such an offer to his knowledge. 

"This has drug on. It's coming up on three weeks, fairly long," he said ."We were doing so many other things to ensure our students education is not interrupted. One of faculty members actually bought this up that so many of our students work and also rely on parents that any portion of their financial income stream being interrupted would impact their ability to stay in school. We've already received some information from students that have been interested in finding out if they qualify." 

Michigan's state government said in December that it can operate about 45 days before any impact from a loss of federal reimbursements are felt. The shutdown will stretch into its 14th day on Saturday.  

The federal government has been partially closed since Dec. 21 amid a standoff between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats — who took control of the U.S. House on Thursday — over $5.7 billion for a border wall that Trump promised to build during the 2016 campaign. 

In a meeting Friday with Democratic leaders, Trump warned that the shutdown could last for months if Congress does not approve his wall funding. 

"Absolutely I said that," Trump said in a press conference in the Rose Garden. "I don't think it will, but I am prepared. I think I can speak for Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate, they feel very strongly about having a safe country; having a border that makes sense. Without borders, I have said it many times, we don't have a country. I hope it doesn't go on even beyond a few more days. Really, it could open very quickly."  

Democrats were equally resolute about denying Trump the funding for the border wall. 

"We, Democratic side, recognize that we really cannot resolve this until we open up government, and we made that very clear to the president," Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said after meeting with Trump at the White House. "Services are being withheld from the American people. Paychecks are being withheld from people who serve the needs of the American people. And our border security will suffer if we do not resolve this issue." 


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing