Few locally feel impact of shutdown

Staff Writer

While the 40-hour government shutdown consumed television news and kept political wonks busy, it had little impact on most residents of the Golden Triangle. In fact, a random sample of residents found most paid little attention "because they always settle it anyway."

And the congressional agreement to reopen things and keep them open for three weeks means most services will be back to normal today.

The major federal outlets that impact life in the region -- Columbus Air Force Base, Transportation Security at Golden Triangle Regional Airport, Social Security offices in Columbus and Starkville, and the Veterans Affairs medical clinic in Columbus -- were open Monday.

But some others, like parts of the Natchez Trace and Corps of Engineers, were closed.

At CAFB, even the commissary, health club, day care center and other facilities maintained hours, although the airmen and their families had been warned that a prolonged shutdown could have meant some changes down the road.

The biggest headache for airmen came from those who were scheduling training classes or had assignments in other places. The shutdown created a variety of questions about schedules, but most of those answered themselves by Monday afternoon.

At Golden Triangle Airport, which also is heavily involved in CAFB missions, nothing changed.

"They were specifically exempted from the shutdown and anyone that effects us was exempted, too," said GTRA Director Mike Hainsey.

The Social Security offices in the region had only skeleton staffs, but they were open, answering basic questions and handing out forms. But they could not process claims, according to a person who answered the phone at the Columbus office.

Those offices should be back to normal today although some delays may be possible as the system gets caught up.

'I was going to go by and pick up some forms but after I called and talked to them, I just decided to wait," said Clay County resident Bert Douglas, who delayed a trip to the Columbus Social Security office.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Clinic was open. "Everything will be the same this week, all appointments and everything," said a receptionist who answered the phone Monday afternoon.

"That's good, that's what I was worrying about. I've got an appointment for my dad late this week and that had me worried," said Oktibbeha County resident Amber Johnston who called the Columbus center Monday morning before Congress reached an agreement.

Visitor services along the Natchez Trace Parkway, especially the visitors center in Tupelo, were closed Monday and during the weekend, although some rangers were on duty patrolling the federal highway.

Corps of Engineers locks and dams were open and operating with "essential" personnel, but visitor centers and office staff were furloughed although some did work to answer phones and questions.
"I'm working for free," said one person who answered the phone at one Corps' location.

Most folks on the street were unfazed by the shut down, at least to a parking lot poll outside a convenience store on Highway 45 Alternate.

"That's pretty typical Washington. It hasn't bothered me and I don't think it will. It's just politics," said Steven Jacobsen.

"The only thing I worry about is my mother's Social Security and Medicare. But senior citizens vote so they'll take care of that even if they shut everything else," noted Babs Clinton.

"Except for a ticket on the Parkway several years ago, I can't think of the last time i needed anything from the federal government. They take my Social Security from my check each week, I doubt if that is going to stop," said Francis Armistead.

"I'm not sure the immigration issue was worth shutting down over, but if it wasn't that, it would be something else. They are really out of touch with folks on the street. I don't get too wound up about it. I just turn the channel," stated Linda King.