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Tuesday, Oct 01 2013 07:37 PM

Partial government shutdown hits Kern

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    By AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

    President Barack Obama gestures during a statement on the government shutdown in the Rose Garden of the White House on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 in Washington. Congress plunged the nation into a partial government shutdown Tuesday as a protracted dispute over Obama's signature health care law reached a boiling point, forcing some 800,000 federal workers off the job.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

The parking lot was strangely empty for a Tuesday afternoon. But the sign on the door told the story:

"This Bureau of Land Management Bakersfield Field Office is closed due to the government shutdown."

Some local government offices like the BLM were completely shuttered, while others operated with fewer employees during the first day of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Kenneth Peppard, manager of the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control team at the Meadows Field tower in Bakersfield, said he has been provided with "appropriate staffing levels" to handle air traffic around Bakersfield.

Peppard declined to say whether any employees were placed on furlough.

A spokesman at the Drug Enforcement Administration's Bakersfield office said 14 percent of DEA employees in the division, which extends from San Francisco to Bakersfield, were placed on leave due to the shutdown.

He declined to discuss how the cuts in manpower might affect day-to-day operations or ongoing investigations.

The administration of patient care at the Veterans Administration community-based outpatient clinic in Bakersfield appeared to be sailing along normally Tuesday.

"Let's be perfectly clear," said Michiko Riley, a spokeswoman for the VA's Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, of which Bakersfield is a part. "The VA's health care system is open for business. Patient care should be seamless throughout this process."

Nevertheless, a prolonged shutdown could threaten critical services to veterans.

VA medical centers, clinics and other health services have advance appropriations and will remain open, the VA's Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs said in a statement.

"VA has funds available to ensure claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October," the VA said. "However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs will be suspended when funds are exhausted."

Disabled veterans currently receiving disability compensation or pension checks, and those receiving survivor benefits, should continue to receive them. However, those with new or pending claims may see a delay until funding for claims processors is restored.

Meanwhile, the VA has produced a veterans "field guide," which summarizes the services that will be available and those that will be impacted by a potential lapse in funding.

To obtain a copy of the field guide, go to http://www.va.gov/opa/appropriations_lapse_plan.asp.

As the Postal Service is funded through the sale of postage, its delivery and retail services are not expected to be affected. Social Security benefits are likewise not expected to be interrupted by the shutdown.

The largest impact will likely be in the military sector. According to Californian research, 8,500 civilian employees at Edwards Air Force Base alone will likely be furloughed without pay, a number that could have a significant impact on the local and regional economy if the shutdown continues for weeks.

Due to an exemption to the shutdown passed by Congress, active duty members of the armed forces should continue to receive their pay checks without interruption.

Military contractors performing under contracts that were funded prior to the shutdown may continue to work under those contracts. However, new contracts may be affected.

Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote California as a premier travel destination, said in a statement Tuesday that California will take a hit from the shutdown.

"The current federal government shutdown has come with immediate impacts on our national parks, public lands and overall tourism economy," Beteta said. "Visitors to and travelers throughout California spend $292 million each day, $12.1 million every hour, or $202,000 every minute. Our national parks, public lands and surrounding gateway areas are major contributors to these figures and the effects of this shutdown will be felt immediately in these communities."

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