The longest United States partial government shutdown to date came to a tenuous end on Jan. 25 after halting the paychecks of an estimated 800,000 federal workers for 35 days. The shutdown also led to missed pay for 1.2 million government contractors, according to a New York University professor’s estimate. Throughout Appalachia, people are feeling the repercussions. A study published Jan. 3 by finance website WalletHub listed Virginia and West Virginia in the top 10 states most affected by the shutdown.
National parks, national recreation areas and national forests across the region lost federal funding during the shutdown. Although most parks have returned to full operations, the opening of picnic shelters and campgrounds may be delayed this spring due to lost time for coordinating projects and hiring seasonal staff.
On the Appalachian Trail, both federal and volunteer maintenance crews were halted, but visitors were still able to access the trail as well as some facilities.
The Gauley River National Recreation Area and New River Gorge National River were partially open during the shutdown. They remained mostly trash-free through visitor diligence and the help of volunteers, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
The nonprofit Great Smoky Mountains Association provided more than $500,000 to keep three visitor centers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park open until Jan. 1, after which sanitation and litter was a major concern.
The Blue Ridge Parkway faced major delays in cleanup from storm damage and trash build-up during the shutdown, according to High Country Press Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a nonprofit partner of the U.S. National Park Service, is seeking extra volunteer help for cleanup efforts following the end of the shutdown.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Western North Carolina were particularly impacted due to the closure of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. They relied on financial reserves during the shutdown to keep their hospital and healthcare services running, according to a news report from Cherokee One Feather.
Nearly all USDA Food and Nutrition Services employees were furloughed, negatively impacting the effectiveness of the Supplemental Nutritional Access Program and related initiatives such as WIC, which provides funding for nutritional assistance for low-income pregnant women and women with young children. Roughly 45.4 million Americans used SNAP in January 2016. Free and reduced-price school meals for approximately 30.4 million children nationwide remained available, though continued funding was of serious concern. These programs play an important role in supporting Appalachian communities.
If Congress cannot strike a deal by Feb. 15, the government may shut down again, which could have profound effects on not only federal employees, but citizens who depend on such programs. — By Sam Kepple and Jen Kirby