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Closing of Flight 93 Memorial, other national parks among most immediate signs of shutdown

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 12:43 a.m.

Visitors could find the gates locked at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County and other National Park Service sites in Western Pennsylvania beginning Tuesday.

Otherwise, citizens may not notice much difference in federal services unless there's a prolonged government shutdown.

“It's unfortunate, because these are our heaviest weekends for visitors,” said Jeff Reinbold, director of the park service's five sites in the region, including the spot in Shanksville where a hijacked commercial aircraft crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, when passengers rose up against terrorists.

Congressional leaders wrestled on Monday with whether to tie financing of government agencies to delays in the Affordable Care Act. The potential shutdown could affect dozens of agencies and furlough thousands of workers nationwide, including about 50 National Park workers in Western Pennsylvania.

Some services critical to public safety — such as air traffic control, airport passenger screening, federal law enforcement and prisons — will continue mostly unaffected.

Social Security and other benefits will continue, but Department of Veterans Affairs officials said money could run out by the end of October should a shutdown last that long. A spokesman at Pittsburgh's VA office could not be reached for comment.

Mail service will continue.

“The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations,” said Tad Kelley, the agency's spokesman in Pittsburgh. “Therefore, we would conduct business as usual.”

So will the National Weather Service in Moon and the U.S. District Courthouse, Downtown.

The federal judicial system would operate for two weeks during the shutdown but would re-evaluate about Oct. 15. U.S. Attorney David Hickton canceled a law enforcement conference this week because of the shutdown threat.

Buildings housing federal agencies, including the William S. Moorhead Federal Building, Downtown, would remain open, the General Services Administration said.

The IRS planned to suspend audits and taxpayer services, including telephone help lines, the agency announced. People seeking federal aid for small businesses and homes could be affected as federal loan activity would freeze.

There would be little immediate impact on state government in a short-term federal government shutdown, officials with Gov. Tom Corbett's administration said Monday.

Federal money for entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families would continue. The $20.4 billion in federal funding for non-entitlement programs could slow down. The state gets federal checks on a reimbursement basis.

“We're monitoring the happenings at the federal level very closely,” said Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the state budget office. “The governor has directed agencies that do receive federal funding to continue operating in the event of a short-term federal shutdown.”

In the event of a shutdown, insurance exchanges opening on Tuesday for the first time to allow the uninsured to shop for medical insurance will be open, said Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “We were assured of that last week,” Ward said.

All five National Park Service sites in the region would close if the government shut down. That includes Fort Necessity National Battlefield and Friendship Hills National Historic Site in Fayette County as well as the Johnstown Flood National Memorial and the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site in Cambria County.

The busiest, though, would be the Flight 93 Memorial, which attracts up to 7,000 people a day on weekends this time of year, Reinbold said.

“We have 19 buses scheduled to arrive later this week,” he said. “The sites would remain closed until the shutdown is lifted.”

Staff writer Brad Bumsted contributed to this report. Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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