NEW YORK — The partial government shutdown that began Tuesday left many federal workers uncertain of their financial future, with many facing unpaid furloughs or delays in paychecks.
Park ranger and father-to-be Darquez Smith said he already lives paycheck to paycheck while putting himself through college and worried how he’ll fare if the shutdown lasts a long time. “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now — tuition, my daughter, bills,” said Smith, 23, a ranger at Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio. “I’m just confused and waiting just like everyone else.”
A midnight deadline to avert the shutdown passed amid congressional bickering, leaving Americans unable to get government services ranging from federally backed home loans to supplemental food assistance for children and pregnant women.
From New York’s Liberty Island to Alaska’s Denali National Park, the U.S. government closed its doors as a budget impasse idled hundreds of thousands of federal workers and halted most non-essential government services for the first time in nearly two decades.
The impact of the shutdown was mixed — immediate and far-reaching for some, annoying but minimal for others.
In Colorado, where flooding killed eight people earlier this month, emergency funds to help rebuild homes and businesses continued to flow — but federal worker furloughs were expected to slow it down.
National Guard soldiers rebuilding washed-out roads would apparently be paid on time — along with the rest of the country’s active-duty personnel — under a bill passed hours before the shutdown. Existing Social Security and Medicare benefits, veterans’ services and mail delivery were also unaffected.
Other agencies were harder hit — nearly 3,000 Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors were furloughed along with most of the National Transportation Safety Board’s employees, including accident investigators who respond to air crashes, train collisions, pipeline explosions and other accidents.
Almost all of NASA shut down, except for Mission Control in Houston, and national parks closed along with the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo. Even the zoo’s popular panda cam went dark, shut off for the first time since a cub was born there Aug. 23.
Federal workers would not see their pay affected right away. If a shutdown continues, all employees can expect to be paid on schedule on Oct. 15, 2013, for hours worked from Sept. 22 through Sept. 30.
Still, Marc Cevasco, who works in the Department of Veterans Affairs, said as he waited for a bus Tuesday that the uncertainty of how long the shutdown would last made him uneasy.
“Even if it’s just shut down for a week that’s a quarter of your pay this month. That means a lot to a lot of people,” he said.
Cevasco, 30, said he had been told his office had enough money to pay workers for Tuesday, so he was keeping his appointments. But he could have to turn in his phone later in the day and go home until the government reopens.
As the shutdown loomed Monday, visitors to popular parks made their frustration with elected officials clear.
“There is no good thing going to come out of it,” said Chris Fahl, a tourist from Roanoke, Ind., who was visiting the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in Hodgenville, Ky. “Taxpayers are just going to be more overburdened.”
Emily Enfinger, who was visiting the Statue of Liberty, said politicians need to find a way to work together.
“They should be willing to compromise, both sides, and it discourages me that they don’t seem to be able to do that,” she said. “They’re not doing their job as far as I’m concerned.”
Joe Wentz, a retired federal employee from Lebanon, Va., who was visiting San Francisco with his wife, bought tickets to visit Alcatraz on Thursday — if it’s open.