Social Security services, parks affected in stalemate

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 11:36 p.m.

Ships moved through locks and dams along the three rivers on Tuesday, passengers got their pat-downs in airport security lines and defendants had their day in federal court Downtown.

Federal agencies maintained what they consider critical government services in Western Pennsylvania while furloughing an unknown number of nonessential employees and curtailing some normal services on the government shutdown's first day.

“I can't get a Social Security card for my son's schooling,” Nicole McGrady, 28, of the North Side said outside that agency's office on Penn Avenue, Downtown.

“The politicians are taking it out on us, but they're still getting paid,” said Roger Henderson, 56, of the North Side as he left the Social Security office without an income verification printout he needs to show a prospective landlord.

Field office employees at the Social Security Administration kept working, enabling the agency to offer limited services.

Workers at other agencies directed questions to public affairs officers who were sent home after they changed voicemail messages to explain their absences.

‘A shame'

“It's just a shame that we can't visit our dead and give them our thanks,” said Ellie Balash of Canton, Mich., who with her husband, David, found a shuttered Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County.

The National Park Service closed 401 facilities, including the memorial, Fort Necessity National Battlefield and Friendship Hills National Historic Site in Fayette County, the Johnstown Flood National Memorial and the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site in Cambria County.

The Army Corps of Engineers closed recreation areas it operates, such as the campgrounds at Youghiogheny Lake, and gave people camping there until Wednesday to leave. It stopped issuing building permits and halted most maintenance on locks and dams, which remained open.

“We will maintain navigation,” said Army Corps spokeswoman Carol Davis. She could not provide the number of Corps employees who were furloughed.

The Transportation Security Administration sent home 15 to 20 of 350 employees in Western Pennsylvania, according to Kimberly Kraynak-Lambert, president of Local 332 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

“As of now, we're not getting paid,” Kraynak-Lambert said. “Everyone that has to do with security (must work).”

Tom Qualtere, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, said his office was trying to determine how many of Western Pennsylvania's nearly 20,000 federal employees were furloughed.

Active military remained on duty, but most civilian employees at the 911th Airlift Wing and Army's 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Moon went home.

If the shutdown does not end by the weekend, it would impact 1,600 civilian employees of the 911th, said Air Force Capt. Shawn Walleck. He and Army Capt. Jeffrey Gruidl said uniformed personnel would maintain security and core functions.

U.S. District Court, Downtown, has enough money from filing fees to keep courtrooms open for about 10 days, said Chief Deputy Clerk Colleen Willison. The U.S. Attorney's Office furloughed some employees and planned to focus on criminal cases, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Dillon, filling in for the office's furloughed spokeswoman.

“The impact should be minimal, but directly proportional to how long (the shutdown) lasts,” said Craig Street, head of SBA lending at Columbus-based Huntington Bank, which has 50 branches in the Pittsburgh area.

Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, said, “Government workers will receive back pay, so essentially it's a paid vacation.”

Staff writers Brian Bowling, Mary Pickels, John Oravecz and Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report.

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