Federal employees in V.I. get back to work
Published: October 18, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Federal workers were back to the daily grind Thursday, with a little more grind than usual.
After the announcement Wednesday night that Congress arrived at a deal to end the 16-day partial federal government shutdown, an estimated 800,000 federal employees returned to work, where many of them are expected to play catch-up in coming weeks.
They did not return to paychecks, however, though they are supposed to receive them eventually, both those who were furloughed and those who continued working without pay.
In the territory, the shutdown affected a number of agencies and more than 100 federal employees.
On Thursday, they returned to unfinished projects, piled up paperwork and lots of calls waiting for responses.
"The hardest thing was not knowing what was coming. There were so many ups and downs," said Mike Anderson, deputy superintendent of the V.I. National Park.
Anderson said that of the park's 54 employees, only a handful of employes, including himself, continued to work through the shutdown, which closed the park's beaches for nearly a week.
They were supposed to be fixing up roads and trails, particularly road shoulders that are deteriorating increasingly with erosion.
The beaches were closed the first day of the shutdown, Oct. 1, but were opened to the public on Oct. 6, despite the continuation of the shutdown. All other sites and services within the park were closed.
"It has been difficult, but I think everyone's made it without struggling with bills, but I haven't checked with everyone," Anderson said. While the territory's park service was likely the agency hardest hit by the shutdown, other agencies said that a handful of their employees were furloughed within their offices.
Many of them were tight-lipped about what their offices were unable to do during the shutdown.
"We're back to normal," said Customs and Border Patrol regional spokeswoman Brenda Padial, who is based in Puerto Rico.
Padial said that a number of Customs and Border Patrol employees were furloughed within the territory during the shutdown, though she would not say precisely how many or what their positions are.
The U.S. Attorney's Office acknowledged that some of the matters in its civil cases were stalled. Only the matters that were required to be handled by federal court were addressed, while others that could be postponed were, spokeswoman Joycelynn Hewlett said.
"All of the people that were doing criminal work were here," she said.
Like any other office, attorneys and other staff at times were unable to reach staff or obtain documentation from other offices, Hewlett said. "We don't work in a vacuum. We work with other federal agencies," she said.
The V.I. Human Services, which relies heavily on federal funding for its social services programs, was relatively unharmed by the shutdown, according to Lennox Zamore, administrator for the Family Services Division.
The department was able to keep its food stamp program running, even though it relies entirely on federal funding, she said.
However, had the shutdown continued much longer, some of the department's other services likely would have been endangered, Zamore said.
Assistance programs for the blind, disabled and residents who fall beneath the poverty line all would have been jeopardized, she said.
The Office of Veterans Affairs also would have had increasing concern, not for funding - it is funded by the V.I. government - but instead for the lack of resources.
The office regularly hosts federal benefits counselors who visit St. Thomas and St. Croix for weeklong periods to advise veterans on how to obtain benefits for housing, health or education.
Two of the counselors had visits scheduled for this month, but they were furloughed and had to reschedule their visits to November, according to Harry Daniel, director of the office.
"The shutdown hits home, but, at home, we really weren't hit that hard," Daniel said.
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