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Government shutdown hits locally

Federal employees across the state, including those who work at the John C. Stennis Space Center and Naval Oceanographic Office, were furloughed starting Tuesday because of a partial government shutdown.

The shutdown was caused by a budget dispute used by Republicans in the House of Representatives to try to defund or delay President Barack Obama’s health care law by adding wording to a budget bill requiring, in its first version, the defunding of the law, and in the second version, to delay implementation of portions of the law by one year. About 800,000 federal workers were forced off the job without pay starting Tuesday morning.

Along with the furloughs of local residents who work at John C. Stennis Space Center and the Naval Oceanographic Office, the Stennis Space Center website is no longer available. Visitors to the website are greeted by a notice stating, “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. We sincerely regret this inconvenience.”

Attempts to contact representatives with NAVOCEANO and Stennis have been met with answering machines. When the Picayune Item contacted Cathy Willis, spokeswoman for the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at Stennis Space Center, the reporter was greeted by a message that said she had been furloughed and would not be in her office until furloughs had been lifted.

Paul Maxwell, vice president and corporate communications director for Hancock Bank & Whitney Bank, said he expects both banks to remain strong despite the shutdown.

In regards to furloughed employees who do business with the banks, he said, “Our Hancock and Whitney bankers will work with clients affected by this shutdown on an individual basis to determine fair solutions to financial issues that may arise because of the shutdown.”

Maxwell added, “BauerFinancial, Inc., recently affirmed both banks’ financial stability by again recommending Hancock and Whitney as two of the strongest, safest banks in America.”

Along with the Stennis Space Center and Naval Oceanographic Office, the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge is also closed until further notice. Local sportsmen who hunt or fish in federal wildlife refuges or in federal waters should see the Outdoors on page 5A in today’s edition.

In his presidential address Tuesday afternoon, President Obama said, “This Republican shut down did not have to happen, but I want every American to understand why it did happen. Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act. They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.”

The last time the government was forced to shutdown in 1995 concerning the 1996 budget, non-essential government workers were put on furlough and non-essential services were suspended for 27 days. According to CBS News, the 1995 shutdown reportedly cost American taxpayers $1.4 billion.

The 1995 shutdown resulted in 800,000 workers eventually getting paid for staying home and harmed federal contractors and businesses that serve visitors to national parks and industries that must work with federal inspectors.   

The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this story.