ST. LOUIS (AP) – The U.S. government’s first shutdown in 17 years rippled across Illinois on Tuesday, forcing unpaid furloughs of thousands of civilian military workers and hundreds of others responsible for maintaining key stretches of the nation’s inland shipping system.
About 1,300 Illinois National Guard employees also are off the job, as are dozens of state employees. Campers at federally maintained sites across the state were being asked to take down their tents and head out, and visitors to the former home of the state’s beloved Abraham Lincoln were turned away.
Some 3,500 civilian employees – about two-thirds of the non-military staff at 13,000-worker Scott Air Force Base – reported for work but were later sent home after completing paperwork to wait out the federal shutdown. The remaining civilian employees at the base, which is east of St. Louis and the region’s biggest employer, were exempt.
Air Force Col. Kyle Kremer, commander of the base’s primary air wing, said some flight operations at Scott will be curtailed, including those transporting senior government and military leaders. But operations deemed essential won’t be affected, he said.
At the Great Lakes Naval Training Station north of Chicago, some 2,500 civilian workers also were sent home indefinitely Tuesday, said Senior Chief Abigail Lehtinen, spokeswoman for the site that is the Navy’s only boot camp in the U.S.
At least for now, the work of those affected has been turned over to the remaining 300 civilian employees deemed “essential” and the site’s roughly 5,000 active-duty staffers, she said.
“If this (shutdown) extends, it absolutely puts a strain on everything,” Lehtinen said.
The Illinois National Guard also could be forced to curtail some weekend guard duty in addition to the furloughs, said Mike Crisman, a guard spokesman and state employee who was the only person left Tuesday in the Springfield public affairs office. Active-duty training — generally light this time of year — will continue as planned if already scheduled, he said.
“Obviously the last 24 hours it’s been crazy with media calls. I’m running solo,” Crisman said. “It’s crazy, but I’m thankful I’ve got a job and I’m not going home.”
On Tuesday, the state sent layoff notices to 53 employees of its Department of Military Affairs and to 20 staffers of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, with those furloughs taking effect Wednesday and lasting at least a week, said Abdon Pallasch, the state’s assistant budget director.
“These are the first, and there may be more,” depending on how long the shutdown lingers, Pallasch told The Associated Press.
Pallasch said most state agencies, including those partly funded by federal grants, will have sufficient funds to continue providing services to such groups as the disabled, elderly and low-income or jobless people and families — at least short-term.
The number of federally funded state workers affected by this shutdown pales in comparison to the number laid off during the U.S. government shutdown in 1995, when 1,200 state employees were furloughed before being hired back two weeks later when the federal government reopened for business.
In the capital city of Springfield, people visiting the Lincoln Home National Historic Site — the state’s only National Park Service property — were turned away Tuesday. The landmark, which draws hundreds of thousands of people each year, was closed because of the shutdown. Lincoln owned the home and lived in it for nearly 20 years.
Shipping on the Mississippi River in the nation’s midsection continued unabated Tuesday along with operations of the waterway’s locks and dams, even though the Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis district that oversees it all lost some 500 of its nearly 700 employees due to the shutdown, said Mike Petersen, the Army Corps’ regional spokesman.
The remaining Army Corps staffers stayed on to safeguard public safety, continue dredging the river and operate the Mississippi’s infrastructure, Petersen said.
The Corps-run National Great Rivers Museum and the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary near Alton, northeast of St. Louis, also closed. Hundreds of campsites and boat ramps that the agency operates across Illinois shut down, too, Peterson said.
Associated Press writer David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.