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  • Craig Kohlruss / The Fresno Bee

    The road to Yosemite National Park’s Glacier Point is shut Tuesday.

  • Craig Kohlruss / Fresno Bee/ MCT

    Park ranger Jeff Gardner informs visitors of the closure of Yosemite National Park due to the government shutdown Tuesday, October 1, 2013. Day visitors were allowed to pass through Yosemite but were instructed not to stop or use any facilities.

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Californians feel the impact as shutdown continues

Published: Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 - 1:55 am

School field trips were canceled, and hunting trips postponed. Some people worried about delays in their disabled veterans’ benefits, others whether their new housing loans would be processed. Still others lost access to the experimental cancer treatments that could save their lives.

In small ways and large, the federal government shutdown on Day 2 started jostling up against the lives of ordinary Californians, the reverberations rippling out beyond the estimated 12,000 federal workers who live in the Sacramento region. And those impacts left many fearful about what might happen next if the shutdown continues for a week, a month or longer.

“Part of the problem,” said Franklin Gilliam, dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs, “is that you say ‘government shutdown,’ but you look out the window, and nothing looks different. Unless you need a small-business loan. Unless you need travel documents.

“People are still getting gas and food and conducting business – most people. Because this invisible structure of the government is exactly that: invisible. As time goes on, it will reveal itself. For all of us, the shutdown will touch more of us exponentially every day.”

Gilliam’s family already has seen the shutdown at work: Organizers were thinking of canceling his son’s high school field trip to Joshua Tree National Park, a trip designed to help city kids understand a different America than their own. The shutdown, in some ways, provides them an unintentional lesson on the same subject.

The post office still delivers the mail. Air traffic controllers still keep an eye on the skies. But with the shutdown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s flu vaccine program is on hold. So are the federal Select Agent Program’s bioterrorism efforts. So are most of the Food and Drug Administration’s routine food inspections.

“Over time, the shutdown will serve as a reminder of the many ways in which government affects people,” said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College. “At any given time, most people are not visiting a national park, but some are. And over time, more and more vacation plans will be disrupted.

“In the first couple of days, the shutdown is abstract for most people, but it will become real to more and more people as it drags on.”

For cancer patients, government help – in the form of clinical trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute – can be a matter of life and death. And the NCI, a federal agency, has closed its doors for the duration.

“We have California patients from our center who have been going through clinical trials there and have been told to go home,” said Dr. David Gandara, a UC Davis Cancer Center lung cancer specialist. “The program has been shut down.”

The UC Davis center is continuing to enroll patients in its NCI-funded clinical trials – for now, until experimental medications have to be reordered from the national institute, and until the center’s federal funding runs out at the end of the year.

“The implications are really substantial,” Gandara said. “It’s not that there’s a disaster right now, but this is serious business. There’s almost no family in America not affected by someone with cancer. The only way we’ve made progress has been through clinical trials, and federal government funding of research is critical.”

Similarly, almost $1 million in research grants for UC Davis’ Alzheimer’s Disease Center are on hold because of the shutdown, said Jayne LaGrande, the center’s chief administrative officer, and the center is not enrolling new patients for research.

“I had someone in Placerville concerned that her husband has Alzheimer’s disease,” said LaGrande. “I told her, ‘An alternative will be if we did a research appointment for you.’

“The next day, I had to let her know we’re not enrolling any new research subjects. We’ve stopped. We can’t do anything.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs, while keeping open its nationwide network of hospitals and clinics, plans to curtail new disability claims by Oct. 7 – and may have to put all veterans’ payments on hold by month’s end if a deal isn’t reached, officials said.

For Sacramento’s Gene Silvestri, a Gulf War-era Army veteran who was left 100 percent disabled after an injury, the news was upsetting.

“Up until the middle of October, we’re OK,” said Silvestri, an officer with Sacramento Valley Veterans. “But once it goes past that, it’s uncertain how the VA is going to be able to pay anyone.”

His VA disability check and Army pension cover his living expenses, he said.

"That’s how I pay my rent,” he said. “That’s how I get gas in my car. That’s how I buy food.”

And with the shutdown, he worries that the backlog of VA claims will grow even longer, and other veterans will have a longer wait for assistance.

At the Rancho Cordova office of U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, field director Kelly Rivas spent Day 2 of the shutdown hearing from people – private citizens and public officials alike – who were starting to absorb the potential impact. The implications are far-reaching: The Sacramento Police Department is poised to receive federal funding for the hiring of 10 new police officers, for example, but the shutdown calls that into question.

Unemployment insurance benefits also could be in question: Although the payments themselves are mandatory under federal law, the money that states receive to administer them could be put on hold by the shutdown.

Realtors and mortgage brokers complained that some housing loans were on hold because the IRS no longer is issuing Form 4506-T, which reports borrowers’ income history. Why? Because IRS employees have been furloughed. If the shutdown continues more than a week or two, said Jeff Tarbell, a Roseville-based Comstock Mortgage officer, “My guess is those loans will sit, and they won’t get funded.”

Vince Thompson, 45, said the shutdown was leading him to cancel his son’s first hunting trip, a long-planned excursion this weekend to Modoc National Wildlife Refuge on the opening day of northeastern California’s duck-hunting season. Like all national parks and recreation areas, Modoc is closed for the duration.

Thompson, a Ducks Unlimited senior regional engineer, helped design and manage part of the refuge’s wetlands restoration. He hunted there with his father when he was young, and he’d been looking forward to sharing the trip with his 10-year-old son, Boden.

“It was passing on the waterfowling tradition to my son,” said Thompson. “It was experiencing nature and the coming of fall.”

They’d applied for a reservation, and Thompson drew the No. 1 permit. Then came the shutdown.

“I’m telling my son what’s been going on,” he said. “A lot of adult issues, I try not to pass along the stress and the politics but I wanted him to be prepared.

“He asks every morning as soon as he wakes up. It’s all he thinks about.”

Call The Bee’s Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136. Follow her on Twitter @AnitaCreamer.

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