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Shutdown impact: Some national parks could reopen

Sunday - 10/13/2013, 8:28am  ET

The Associated Press

The government shutdown continues with some glimmer of hope for those who would like to visit the nation's national parks: The Obama administration said it would consider offers from the states to use their own money to pay for park operations and Utah jumped at the chance.

The shutdown has had far-reaching consequences for some but minimal impact on others. Mail is being delivered. Social Security and Medicare benefits continue to flow. But the shutdown has been particularly harsh on those who rely on tourism, such as communities near the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks.

A look at how services have been affected, and sometimes not, by Congress failing to reach an agreement averting a partial government shutdown:

TRAVEL

Federal air traffic controllers remain on the job and airport screeners continue to funnel passengers through security checkpoints. Furloughs of safety inspectors had put inspections of planes, pilots and aircraft repair stations on hold, but the Federal Aviation Administration says it is asking 800 employees -- including some safety inspectors -- to return to work this week. More than 2,900 inspectors had been furloughed. The State Department continues processing foreign applications for visas and U.S. applications for passports, since fees are collected to finance those services. Embassies and consulates overseas remain open and are providing services for U.S. citizens abroad.

BENEFIT PAYMENTS

Social Security and Medicare benefits continue to be paid out, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications. The Social Security Administration is also delaying the announcement of the size of next year's cost-of-living adjustment, which was supposed to come out on Oct. 16. Unemployment benefits are also still going out.

FEDERAL COURTS

Federal courts, which have been using fees and other funds to operate since the shutdown began, will likely have enough money to operate until Oct. 17, and possibly Oct. 18.

After that, the courts will run out of money and shut down all nonessential work.

A limited number of workers would perform essential work, while all others would be furloughed. Each court would make a determination on what is essential and nonessential. Judges would still be able to seat jurors, but the jurors won't be paid until Congress provides funding. Court-appointed lawyers would also not get paid.

The Supreme Court opened its term Monday and says its business will go on despite the ongoing shutdown. The Supreme Court announced Thursday it would stay open through Friday, Oct. 18, including hearing two days of arguments next week.

RECREATION

All national parks have been closed since the shutdown began, but the Obama administration said Thursday it would allow states to use their own money to reopen some national parks.

Utah is the first state to take up the offer, and national parks located there are expected to open Saturday. Colorado also reached agreement to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park. But several states say they are unlikely to participate.

Figures compiled by a coalition of retired park service workers indicate that some 700,000 people a day would have been visiting the parks and that the surrounding areas are losing $76 million in visitor spending per day.

In Washington, monuments along the National Mall have been closed, as have the Smithsonian museums, including the National Zoo. Among the visitor centers that have closed: the Statue of Liberty in New York, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Alcatraz Island near San Francisco.

National wildlife refuges were closed to hunters and fishermen just as hunting season was getting underway in many states. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service said late Friday that it's reopening several wildlife refuges, mostly in the Midwest, to allow pheasant and duck hunting.

CONSUMER SAFETY

Several protection agencies have curtailed their work.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut down most operations on Thursday. However, resident inspectors will remain on the job and any immediate safety or security matters will be handled.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they can handle recalls and high-risk foodborne outbreaks, but discovering them will be more difficult because many of the people who investigate outbreaks have been furloughed. Routine food safety inspections were suspended, so most food manufacturers won't have to worry about periodic visits from government inspectors. U.S. food inspections abroad have also been halted. USDA inspectors are on the lines every day in meatpacking plants and are required to be there by law for the plants to stay open.

The National Transportation Safety Board is not investigating most transportation accidents, making an exception only if officials believe lives or property are in danger. The agency suspended 1,500 investigations that were underway before the shutdown. Nor has the board collected information on or sent investigators to the scene of 20 accidents involving U.S.-manufactured aircraft that have occurred around the globe since Sept. 30.

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