Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Shutdown forces furloughs for thousands in Colorado Springs

photo - Maj. Ryan Burke scans the nearly empty shelves in the meat section at the Fort Carson Commissary Tuesday, October 1, 2013. The commissary was busier than normal with news that it will close Tuesday until further notice because of the government shutdown. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette + caption
Maj. Ryan Burke scans the nearly empty shelves in the meat section at the Fort Carson Commissary Tuesday, October 1, 2013. The commissary was busier than normal with news that it will close Tuesday until further notice because of the government shutdown. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
By Tom Roeder Published: October 4, 2013 0

Federal offices around the Pikes Peak region ground to a near standstill Tuesday as thousands of workers were sent home on unpaid furloughs.

The layoffs hit hardest at area military bases. More than 1,000 workers at the Air Force Academy, 400 workers at Schriever Air Force Base, 2,200 at Peterson Air Force Base and 700 at U.S. Northern Command were furloughed. At Fort Carson, another 1,000 workers were off the job.

"There are people who are dedicated to what they do," said furloughed Northern Command worker Paul Bowman. "They are dedicated to defending America."

Union officials say figuring out who was furloughed proved problematic at Fort Carson, where commanders had to decided who was essential and who wasn't.

"To add to the disappointment of the shutdown, the mass confusion is adding to the employees' anxiety," said Albert Rivera, vice president of Fort Carson's chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees.

At Fort Carson, soldiers, spouses and retirees perused a dwindling supply of meat at the commissary and stocked up on essentials they said were priced better on post than off. The commissary was to be closed by the shutdown on Wednesday.

"People were fighting over meat," Elka Kylman, a shopper and the spouse of a Fort Carson soldier, said Tuesday afternoon as a military policeman stood at the store's entrance.

Though Kylman didn't witness any physical altercations, "people are anxious, stressed," she said.

Anxiety is also rippling through a business community that has already faced fires, floods and federal budget cuts this year, said Joe Raso, president of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

"Uncertainty at any level is the number one issue impacting businesses," Raso said.

Here's a sampling of shutdown impacts Tuesday:

- Gov. John Hickenlooper announced he'll use state cash to keep Colorado National Guard troops working on flood recovery.

"We can't afford to lose one day in rebuilding areas destroyed or damaged by the floods," Hickenlooper said.

That work includes rebuilding roads in flood-ravaged areas of the northern front range. Most of the state money will be reimbursed, Hickenlooper said.

The Colorado Guard still furloughed 650 workers.

- "Life, health and safety" were the priorities Fort Carson brass kept in mind when determining which employees to furlough, said post spokeswoman Dee McNutt.

Brig. Gen. Michael Bills, acting senior commander of the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, ordered that the post "ensure soldiers maintain their readiness," McNutt said.

She couldn't guarantee that would happen.

"We're going to do everything we can not to hurt the combat readiness of the installation and our soldiers," she said, adding that soldiers in the field will continue to train. "But in the end, this does have an effect on, not just individual employees who aren't going to get paid, but morale and a lot of other things."

Evans Army Community Hospital asked patients to keep their scheduled appointments. "Despite the partial shutdown, we are keeping scheduled appointments at Evans," the hospital said Tuesday on its Facebook page.

- Tourists will find some popular Pikes Peak region attractions shuttered. The Air Force Academy's Cadet Chapel is closed, along with the Florissant Fossil Beds.

"As a community, we sympathize with our friends at these area attractions, as well as those being furloughed. While the national visitor experience is being affected with various closures, Colorado Springs and the surrounding region are fortunate to offer more than 55 attractions and activities to enjoy," Doug Price, head of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau said in an email.

National parks and monuments were closed by the shutdown along with campgrounds operated by several federal agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers and all sites run by the Interior Department.

Jeff Wolin, a park ranger with Florissant Fossil Beds, said Tuesday morning that though the park would be closed to the public, some law enforcement and maintenance personnel would remain on duty.

"We're not doing any cool programs in the community," he said.

- The Air Force Academy said away games for its sports teams are off the table during the shutdown, including the Oct. 5 football game at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

Boosters were working on ways to revive the game.

- Furloughs hit congressional offices through the state. Offices for U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet set up recordings on their phone lines explaining the furloughs prevented employees from answering.

Catherine Mortensen, a spokeswoman for Colorado Springs U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn said the office had furloughed nearly half of its workforce, including people responsible for constituent services.

- U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs said the job of stopping terror attacks on American soil continued.

"While we are maintaining our ability to support essential missions such as Operation Noble Eagle with uniformed military and some exempted civilians, the shutdown will place significant hardships on all of our people, and is a disruption to our operations," the command said in a statement. "We hope this will end soon."

- Members of Colorado's congressional delegation expressed little hope for a quick resolution Tuesday.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall blamed Republicans for the standoff and said they should back down. He wants the House to pass a Senate-approved budget bill and ruled out negotiations on health care in budget talks, the key sticking point in the House.

"Why would we go talk when we have a gun to our head?" Udall said.

Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn blamed Democrats and said they should give in. He wants the Senate to agree to a conference committee negotiation that includes debate on whether Obamacare should be delayed.

- State unemployment officials say they're ready for an influx of claims from furloughed federal workers. The state has an estimated 54,000 federal employees who will qualify for unemployment benefits if furloughed.

"There is a mandatory one-week waiting period before a claim is activated and workers may not file their claim until their last day of work," the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said in a statement. "Unlike most claimants, the federal workers are 'job attached' which means they will not be required to conduct a job search during their furlough."

- The Internal Revenue Service has cancelled audit appointments for the duration of the shutdown, but taxpayers still need to pay up.

"You should continue to file and pay taxes as normal," the agency said in a news release.

Other federal agencies had similar reports. The Small Business Administration was limited to disaster help. Commerce, Labor, Transportation, Agriculture, State, Homeland Security departments reported that customer service was limited but critical operations continued.

- The Department of Veterans Affairs was open for business. While the agency said some claims processing would be delayed, health services continued without interruption.

- Federal law enforcement agencies remain on the job and federal courts remained open Tuesday. An official with the U.S. District Court in Denver said that it was business as usual for the next 10 days at the Colorado Springs office.

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