Acadia National Park is poised to get a record number of visitors this year as Maine heads into its busy fall foliage season.
But park operations could be disrupted as early as Friday if Congress does not break a deadlock on a budget resolution that is needed to maintain federal funding past midnight Thursday.
Although Acadia is one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, it is also among the first places in Maine to be affected by the federal government shutdown for lack of funding. And a total or partial closure of the park would likely have a negative effect on the state and local economies.
Other public impacts of a federal shutdown in Maine would be less immediate. Most federally funded services would continue for some time as funding has already shifted to state and local agencies that provide assistance with housing, heating or other services. A prolonged shutdown, however, could have wider impacts, including on the economy.
The most recent and longest federal shutdown in US history, 35 days, lasted from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019. One of the fallout from the shutdown was a 13% drop in sales of homes in Maine in January 2019, many of that attributed to the overall economic uncertainty triggered by a closed federal government.
It is not yet clear how Acadia National Park would be affected if a closure were to take place.
âAt this point, park operations are continuing normally. If anything changes, we’ll most likely issue a press release, âAcadia National Park spokesperson Christie Anastasia said Tuesday. She did not respond to questions about how the park might be affected on Friday if Congress failed to come to an agreement, and it was not clear whether the parks service had prepared contingency plans.
The park has been closed or partially closed twice due to budget deadlock in Congress over the past 10 years. In 2013, Acadia was completely closed, the doors closed and the entrances barricaded. But, in 2018, the park was only partially closed. The public could access the park, but toilets and other facilities were not available as the park put 79 of its 94 employees on leave.
The park attracts nearly 3.5 million of the state’s roughly 39 million tourist visits each year and is expected to surpass 4 million visits this year after a record summer. And this weekend should be busy.
The 12e The annual Dark Sky Festival begins Wednesday and includes 23 events held over five days in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor, and Castine. There is no indication on the festival website that events could be halted due to a possible government shutdown.
STILL A LOT FOR TOURISTS TO DO
Closing the park would result in some tour cancellations to the area, but most pre-booked group tours would still come to Maine and the area, said Alison Sucy, director of operations and director of government affairs for the Maine Tourism Association. .
Tourists will always come and take a look at Maine’s changing leaves and landscapes and seascapes, even if they can’t enter the park, Sucy said.
âIt is certain that a park closure would have an impact on the experience that visitors can have,â said Sucy, âbut Mt. Desert Island has a lot to offer outside of Acadia.
For some Maine residents, especially those who depend on their monthly Social Security benefits to pay the bills, the threat of the federal government shutdown can be frightening. However, federal law requires these payments to continue. Claims for new benefits would likely be delayed, depending on the length of a disruption. The issuance of new social security cards would also be suspended during any shutdown.
Many essential federal workers, including those serving the medical needs of Maine veterans at state veterans facilities, including the main VA hospital in Togus, would remain on duty.
U.S. Postal Service workers would also remain on duty, as would any federal law enforcement officers working in Maine. Only a small portion of the estimated 15,000 federal workers in Maine would be put on leave and they would see lost wages due to the shutdown offset by retroactive payments once government reopens.
Major federal programs, including those that provide heat and rent assistance to low-income residents, would continue unabated for now, said Denise Lord, senior director of strategic initiatives at the Maine Housing Authority.
The authority administers federal grants for programs such as the Home Energy Assistance Program for Low-Income Households, as well as federal COVID-19 relief funds aimed at helping tenants facing economic hardship in pay their rent.
âThere will be no immediate impact,â Lord said. âWe have received the funding to run these programs, so there should be no downtime for any of our programs. “
FEDERAL SUBSIDIES ALREADY IN HAND
The city of Portland would also not see an immediate impact from a shutdown, as direct federal government grants for COVID-19 pandemic relief are already underway, said Jessica Grondin, director of communications for the city.
Grondin added that other federal grants, including those for housing and urban development and block grants programs for community development, were also already approved and in the works.
The state government would also continue to operate, and it has also already received most of the state’s share of funding associated with federal COVID-19 relief efforts.
Kelsey Goldsmith, director of communications for the state’s Department of Administration and Financial Services, said the state government has a long-standing framework that it uses whenever there is a possibility of closure of the federal government.
This process involves identifying programs, positions, contracts and grants that could be affected, Goldsmith said. This process was underway on Tuesday.
“As we embark on this preparatory work, we hope that it will ultimately not be necessary as Congress will do what is right,” Goldsmith said in an email. “We urge Congress to keep government open and to avoid defaulting on our debt.”
Robert Long, spokesperson for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency was also working to assess how it might be affected.
“We are undertaking the process of identifying programs and services that may be affected by a federal government shutdown to limit the potential impact, but remain focused on responding to the pandemic and protecting the health of Maine residents.” , Long said in an email. .
Editor-in-chief Deirdre Fleming contributed to this report.
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