Thursday, December 27, 2018

What the government shutdown means for federal workers in Colorado

Posted By on Thu, Dec 27, 2018 at 1:16 PM

click to enlarge Rocky Mountain National Park will remain open without visitor services. - COURTESY OF NATIONAL PARK SERVICE/JIM ECKLUND
  • Courtesy of National Park Service/Jim Ecklund
  • Rocky Mountain National Park will remain open without visitor services.
December 26 was the first day that many of Colorado's 53,200 civilian federal workers began to feel the effects of a government shutdown, triggered Dec. 22 by President Donald Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Some workers have been placed on unpaid leave, while others whose services are deemed essential will be required to work without pay until lawmakers agree on legislation to fund the government. Not all federal workers are affected — the Departments of Energy, Defense, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education all received funding appropriations for 2019.

However, nine of 15 federal departments and dozens of agencies are closed, according to a statement from Democratic members of the Senate Appropriations Committee predicting the effects of a shutdown. They projected that more than 420,000 people would work without pay through the shutdown, and that more than 380,000 would be placed on leave.

So what's happening to federal workers in Colorado? Thousands have been affected, though it's difficult to determine exactly how many, and by how much.

There are approximately 53,200 civilian federal workers in Colorado, according to Bill Thoennes, spokesperson for the state's Department of Labor and Employment. While the department couldn't break down that number further, data from Governing Magazine shows most work for the U.S. Postal Service (which is still functioning normally), Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Air Force, Army, and Department of Agriculture.

Colorado is likely to feel the effects of the shutdown most acutely through the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture.

According to that 2017 data, 6,524 Colorado residents work for the Department of the Interior (which includes the National Park Service), and 3,697 residents work for the Department of Agriculture (which includes the National Forest Service). Democratic lawmakers predicted around 80 percent of employees at the Park Service and Forest Service would be furloughed.

One-third of Colorado's 1,390 Department of Transportation workers, 86 percent of its 1,419 Department of Commerce workers, and 95 percent of its 343 Department of Housing and Urban Development workers were projected to be furloughed.

Lawmakers also predicted up to 88 percent of workers at the Department of Homeland Security, including TSA employees and Customs and Border Protection agents, would be forced to work without pay. Colorado has 682 of these workers, according to Governing Magazine.

Thoennes recommends federal workers affected by the shutdown file an unemployment claim with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. You can do that online by visiting www.colorado.gov/cdle/ui and clicking on "File A Claim."

Not a federal worker? If you were planning an outdoor excursion in the next couple of weeks, you may also feel the effects of short-staffed national parks.

Rocky Mountain National Park announced it would remain accessible to pedestrians and bicycles during the shutdown, but would close several gates to vehicular traffic due to snowfall Dec. 22 and did not know whether these roads would reopen before the shutdown ended. The park advises visitors to use "extreme caution," "as park personnel will not be available to provide guidance or assistance" and "emergency services will be limited."

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve will remain open, but "the visitor center and entrance station will remain closed and no visitor services will be available." Parking lots may also be closed and "hazardous or dangerous conditions may exist" due to the lack of snow removal.

The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument will be closed for the duration of the shutdown.

You can view a list of national parks and monuments online here, though the National Park Service cautions that the website may not reflect current information. Click on each park for more information. Some parks have announced closures or limited services.

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