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Some agencies keep limited services; parkway is closed

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration have announced how they are responding to the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Also, officials announced the partial shutdown is forcing closure of Blue Ridge Parkway facilities.

VETERANS ADMINISTRATION

Randy Noller, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said the branch of the VA that operates its VA medical centers has advance appropriations for fiscal year 2014. That means that hospitals, clinics and other health services will remain open, he added in a statement.

 “Regarding benefits payments administered by the Veterans Benefits Administration: Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended as available funding is exhausted,” his statement read.

Also, regarding the National Cemetery Administration, interments will continue, but they may be on a reduced schedule, it stated.

 “In the event of a prolonged shutdown, VA will continue to review and update its plan in conjunction with the applicable legal requirements and circumstances,” the statement said.

More information is available, and will be updated, at www.va.gov, according to the release.

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

Due to the partial federal government shutdown, Social Security field offices are open only with limited services, according to the Social Security Administration website. Hearings offices remain open to conduct hearings before an administrative law judge. Social Security card centers are closed.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments to beneficiaries will continue with no change in payment dates, the website states.

“... We will only provide the following services at Social Security field offices: help you apply for benefits; assist you in requesting an appeal; change your address or direct deposit information; accept reports of death; verify or change your citizenship status; replace a lost or missing Social Security payment; issue a critical payment; change a representative payee; process a change in your living arrangement or income (SSI recipients only),” the website states.

Services that will not be provided include issuing new or replacement Social Security cards, replacing a Medicare card and issuing a proof of income letter.

Online services will remain open.

VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

Joron Moore-Planter, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Social Services, stated in an email Tuesday: “The impact to DSS-administered programs will depend on the time frame of the current shutdown. If this is a short-term (less than 30 days) shutdown, none of the programs administered by local Departments of Social Services should be adversely impacted.

“However, should this shutdown last for more than 30 days, some programs considered to be ‘discretionary’ in the federal budget could be impacted — TANF, Child Care and Energy Assistance. Based on the information available at this time, it does not appear that SNAP or Medicaid would be impacted even in the event of a more protracted federal government shutdown.”

BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY

A Blue Ridge Parkway news release issued Tuesday said the National Park Service (NPS) has closed all 401 national park units, including the Blue Ridge Parkway. All visitor facilities, including all NPS Visitor Centers, historic sites, park hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, picnic areas and restrooms — except for the main motor road, a thru-way — are closed and will remain so until the government reopens.

The parkway, which forms part of Patrick County’s western border, can be accessed at Meadows of Dan, among other places.

Blue Ridge Parkway Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett said in the release that park visitors in all overnight campgrounds and lodges will be given until 6 p.m. Thursday to make travel arrangements and leave the park. In addition, all park programs and special events have been canceled.

The parkway hosts about 70,000 visitors on average each day in October. Nationally, more than 715,000 visitors a day frequent the National Park System. Nationwide, the NPS stands to lose approximately $450,000 per day in lost revenue from fees collected at entry stations and fees paid for in-park activities such as cave tours, boat rides and camping. Gateway communities across the country see about $76 million per day in total sales from visitor spending that is lost during a government shutdown, the release stated.

 At the parkway, 195 National Park Service employees and about 200 concessions’ employees are on furlough because of the shutdown. Forty-three National Park Service employees remain on duty, providing law enforcement, security and emergency services, the release stated. 

 Nationwide, the shutdown has furloughed more than 20,000 NPS employees. Approximately 3,000 employees remain on duty to ensure essential health, safety and security functions at parks and facilities. About 12,000 park concessions employees also are affected, the release stated. 

 Because it will not be maintained, the NPS website will be down for the duration of the shutdown. NPS.gov has more than 750,000 pages and 91 million unique visitors each year, the release stated.

For updates on the shutdown, visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.

Tom Bishop, who retired as executive director of the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce on March 31 and now is on the board of directors of the Tourism Advisory Committee in Patrick County, said if Blue Ridge Parkway facilities are closed, travelers may get “discouraged” and not make the trip to Patrick County.

He said there are plenty of restaurants, shopping, lodging, etc. near the parkway in Meadows of Dan, but that’s not true of other parkway exits in Patrick County. It may be hard to find rest rooms in some areas, he said.

The most tourist traffic to Patrick County, including busloads of people, takes place during October when the leaves change, he said.

“If the shutdown continues, it’s going to wipe out that October business,” Bishop said.

“It could be devastating to some businesses,” he said.

Bishop said he fears that orchards and greenhouses in the area also might suffer loss of business as a result of the shutdown of parkway facilities. He also fears the two-day Civil War re-enactment in Ararat this weekend, which typically draws 2,000 to 2,500 people, might be impacted, he said.

 

 
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