Meridian Star

New Today

October 1, 2013

Americans anxious, irritated as gov't shuts down

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

Joe Wentz, a retired federal employee from Lebanon, Va., who was visiting San Francisco with his wife, bought tickets to visit Alcatraz on Thursday — if it's open.

Wentz said he's frustrated that some politicians are using the budget to push changes in the Affordable Care Act.

"We've been disgusted a long time that they're not working together," he said.

The shutdown was strangely captivating to Marlena Knight, an Australian native visiting Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. She was confounded that the impasse focused on the nation's health care system — an indispensable service in her home country.

"We can't imagine not having a national health system," she said. "I just can't believe that this country can shut down over something like a national health system. Totally bizarre, as an Australian, but fascinating."

It turns out an institution as massive as the federal government takes some time to grind to a total halt: Many federal workers were being permitted to come in Tuesday to change voicemail messages or fill out time cards. But after that, they were under strict orders to do no work, even check their email.

With no telling how long the standoff will last, even programs not immediately affected could run out of cash.

Barbara Haxton, executive director of the Ohio Head Start Association, said its preschool learning programs would be in jeopardy if a shutdown lasted more than two weeks. Automatic budget cuts in March meant nearly 3,000 children lost access to services and there could be dire consequences if the budget standoff drags on, she said.

"It's not as though this is a throwaway service. These are the poorest of the poor children," Haxton said. "And our congressman still gets his paycheck. His pay doesn't stop and his health insurance doesn't stop."

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