The partial government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, tying for the longest in U.S. history and marking the day that hundreds of thousands of federal workers started missing their paychecks.
Most agencies and organizations in Sierra Vista and surrounding areas have reported minimal impacts so far. As the standoff in Washington continues with no end in sight, area city and county officials, as well as environmental and financial specialists, consider the effects it has had on the area, and what could happen if it continues.
Among the local agencies most affected by the shutdown have been federally funded lands, most of which have been fully or partially closed. Most employees have been furloughed, and are unable to respond to media requests, according to the NPS office of communications.
The Chiricahua National Monument in Willcox in closed at the entrance gate, according to its website. Coronado National Memorial in Hereford and Fort Bowie National Historic Site in Bowie have both closed all facility and visitor services, according to messages on their respective websites, but have trails that remain open. Visitors are cautioned to hike at their own risk, as the trails are not being actively monitored or maintained.
Websites and social media pages for the respective sites read that they are not being updated “due to the lapse in funding.”
Most visitor services and facilities at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area have remained up and running, despite the fact that the area is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, which has closed due to the shutdown.
“The San Pedro House and Fairbank Schoolhouse Museum are working normal hours, because we don’t get funding for the federal government,” said Carolyn Santucci, of nonprofit organization Friends of the San Pedro River. “Our operations haven’t been affected.”
While other restrooms in the area that are not maintained with caretakers with the FOSPR remain open, BLM law enforcement have been “keeping an eye” on them, said Santucci.
“The area itself is all open, and our activities are continuing as scheduled,” she said.
Another popular recreation spot in the area, the Ramsey Canyon Preserve, also remains up and running, said Pete Leiterman, Southeast Arizona program coordinator at The Nature Conservancy.
“We really haven’t seen any direct effects on Ramsey Canyon, being a private organization,” said Lieterman.
However, the shutdown could have an adverse impact on other wilderness areas in the county if it continues, he said. Wildland firefighting could be affected if personnel were not around in the case of a fire, and crimes and vandalism could also be a factor if public lands remained unmonitored.
“The Forest Service do a lot of the trail maintenance up in the Huachuca Mountains, so if we see a level of deterioration on trails or trees coming down, we don’t have people available to maintain those things … that could impact the general public's ability to access things,” he said. “What happens is that if certain trails aren’t available, people start going around it.”
The programs and projects the preserve plans to carry out along with federal wilderness and forest agencies in the coming months could also be affected if the shutdown continues, said Lieterman.
“The thing that comes to mind is about a year ago, we did some restoration on some frog ponds up here in conjunction with Arizona Game and Fish and the Forest Service,” said Lieterman. “One of our goals this spring, in April, is to take some egg masses and transplant them into the restored ponds at Ramsey, and the shutdown could affect that if the USDA folks aren’t around.”
Sierra Vista, Fort Huachuca,
For the most part, Sierra Vista and the county have not seen significant impacts from the partial government shutdown, officials report. Part of this is due to the fact that Fort Huachuca, a top employer in the county, has remained up and running, said Sierra Vista city manager Chuck Potucek.
“Most of the federal shutdown is not really going to impact the fort too much, which is the major employer,” said Potucek. “Because, obviously, defense is still funded, so from that aspect, I don’t expect large impacts on the city as the whole.”
While previous shutdowns have affected operations on the post, the fiscal year 2019 defense budget, which was approved by Congress late last fall, has kept it open this year.
“The Department of Defense began the fiscal year with an authorized budget for the first time in nearly a decade late last year,” said media relations officer Tanja Linton. “We are not shut down like some of our other federal partners are.”
People employed by or contracted with other federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Forest Service, were more likely to begin to feel the effects of the shutdown, said Potucek.
“I recognize that there are other federal employees that live in the area, and they will be affected in terms of what that means and shopping and tax revenues dollars. It’s too early to tell,” he said. “I think it’s more a situation that’s going to impact the individual families of those other federal employees.”
Departments in the county government have not been affected by the shutdown, said Cochise County spokeswoman Amanda Baillie. The county branch of the USDA-funded WIC program, a nutrition program for women and young children, will also continue to operate normally.
As the shutdown continues, some financial institutions in Sierra Vista are taking measures to assist individuals and families affected by the shutdown.
American Southwest Credit Union is offering a no-cost, 0 percent annual percentage rate, short-term loan for eligible members as a response to the shutdown, said president and CEO Brian J. Barkdull.
“We live in a heavy federal-payroll town, and we’re in three counties, so we cover Pima County and Santa Cruz County as well. So there’s a lot of federal employees around,” said Barkdull. “There’s a lot of Border Patrol around, and we have quite a few Border Patrol members, and they are affected.”
Not all federal employees and their families have adequate savings to “ride out” the shutdown, which was why it was important to support them, said Barkdull.
Another credit union that caters to federally employed members, Navy Federal, is also offering a 0 percent APR loan for some members, said a spokesman with the union.
“If one of our members is affected by the government shutdown and they have an established account, they are established for a 0 percent APR loan for missed paychecks,” he said. “Given that this is approaching the longest duration of a government shutdown, this is the first time we’ve had members miss a paycheck and this is the first time we’ve dispersed funds, but we have offered it before.”
If you are not necessarily missing a paycheck but need to apply for a home loan, the Federal Housing Association and the VA remain open, said Leslie Thomas, branch manager at Nova Home Loans in Sierra Vista.
“Nothing’s really been affected, except when we have to get back transcripts from IRS, so that’s a little backlogged,” said Thomas.
Although the agency announced that it began processing transcripts earlier this week despite the shutdown, the process is slow.
“It’s really just anything that we have to get from the IRS, we’re at a standstill.”
The majority of U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees are continuing to work during the shutdown, although they will not be paid until it comes to an end, according to a statement form the Senate Appropriations Committee.
While the agency’s law enforcement and security functions continue, its communications have been affected. A message on the agency’s website reads, “Due to the lapse in federal funding, this website will not be actively managed. This website was last updated on December 21, 2018 and will not be updated until after funding is enacted.”
Emails and calls to the agency were not returned.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said border security efforts had been “unhindered” by the shutdown, and that his office was continuing to work with all law enforcement partners as normal.
“I think we’re part of community, and national security from our community all the way up to our federal folks — we won’t walk away from that mission, whether we’re getting paid or not,” said Dannels. “It’s a passion and part of our job; we’ll continue to collaborate and do it for the right reasons.”