The Exchange

How the Shutdown Threatens Some Home Owners

The Exchange
Joyce Spencer
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Joyce Spencer

At first, the government shutdown only seemed to affect bureaucrats in Washington. But the longer it persists, the more it is harming ordinary people who never knew they had a stake in Washington’s nauseating political battles.

The government has told about 60 home owners in southern Nevada, for instance, that they need to leave their property for the duration of the shutdown, because their homes sit on federal land in the Lake Mead Recreational Area. Since Lake Mead is managed by the feds, anybody who happens to own a home within its boundaries is technically a “visitor” subject to the same lockout that applies to tourists, hikers, campers or sportsmen seeking access to federal land.

The rules governing Lake Mead say that the only homes allowed there must be vacation homes, with the owners having a primary residence someplace else, so they’re not considered full-time, year-round residents of the park. But some home owners apparently got into the habit of spending most of their time at Lake Mead, anyway. Joyce Spencer, 77, said she and her husband Ralph, who is 80, had to move in with nearby family after a park ranger told them they had 24 hours to evacuate the Lake Mead home they’ve owned since the 1970s. “I had to buy Ralph undershirts and jeans because I forgot his pants," Joyce Spencer told TV station KTNV. “I had to be sure and get his walker and his scooter.”

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Lake Mead/AP Photos

As infuriating as it might be to get kicked out of your home thanks to combative politicians, there doesn’t seem to be much Lake Mead owners can do about it. Anybody who defies the order to leave can be issued a citation -- and sent to jail if they try to protest by not paying it. Bob Hitchcock, 71, who owns a cabin on the shores of Lake Mead, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he thought about staying on the property and challenging the order to leave. “Are they really going to come down hard on somebody for trespassing inside his own home?” he wondered. But then he decided they might do exactly that, and chose to sit tight in his Las Vegas home until the shutdown is over.

Strict new prohibitions on entering federal lands since the shutdown went into effect are surely coming as a surprise to thousands of people who use the national parks every day. The government says all national parks and other types of properties it administers are closed, though it’s obviously impossible to secure every trailhead or other entrance to millions of acres of wilderness. Plus, there’s now only limited staff to patrol the parks, since more than 21,000 park service employees—nearly 90% of the total--have been furloughed. Without a doubt, there are some campers in back-country areas along the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and other forest ways who aren’t even aware of the shutdown, and might just disappear back into the woods if they learned about it. Plus, it's fall, which is peak time for leaf-peeping and for tourists hoping to take advantage of thinned-out summer crowds.

Still, as the shutdown drifts into a second week, it’s beginning to impact people far from Washington in ways that are both deliberate and unintentional. Preschool classes have been closed in many states that rely upon federal funds to keep classrooms open. Shortfalls in nutritional funding for low-income mothers and their babies could leave thousands without infant formula and other types of support, with funding running out soonest in Arkansas and Utah.

Shutdown anxiety is also starting to spook the stock market, which rose slightly last week—when it all seemed like temporary posturing—but has now begun to decline as politicians harden their positions and a resolution begins to look distant. Analysts expect the stock-market jitters to intensify as the political gridlock morphs into a much bigger battle over extending the nation’s borrowing limit, which could lead to a default on U.S. debt by around Oct. 17, when the Treasury will exhaust its ability to fully finance the government. In that regard, the shutdown will begin to pinch anybody with an investment portfolio or a retirement plan.

Unfortunately, the pain being inflicted on ordinary people doesn’t seem sufficient to convince lawmakers to resolve the stalemate, with most signs suggesting the shutdown will continue until Oct. 17, at least. At that point, lawmakers may be in a better position to make a deal on several big fiscal issues all at one.

Another week or two of no government, meanwhile, would be good news for one spirited group of Americans: Washington, D.C.-area skateboarders, who are usually banned from the smooth, wide promenades that flank many government buildings and represent ideal skateboarding terrain. With government workers and security officers scarce, the Wall Street Journal reports, skateboarders are moving onto federal turf like wildlife reclaiming habitat when a new preserve is established. A skateboarder invasion couldn’t have happened in a better town.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

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