As the federal government shutdown enters Day Eight, the grim reality hits hard in and near Everglades National Park.
Not only may the gridlock jeopardize a critical restoration funding bill, it has dried up business in surrounding communities.
Everglades City Oyster House owner Robert Miller told NBC-2 his business has dried up and he's had to tell employees to stay home.
"We usually get people from tour buses who came to the national park. The buses are 55 people, and I lost two of them a day; that's 110 people. That's probably about $2,500 in revenue out the window," Miller said.
Swiss tourists Christoph Zuercher and Michael Zuercher discovered the park was closed on October 7 when they arrived at the entrance to find Park Ranger Mirta Maltes behind gates. Visitors to the Everglades spend $147 million each year in surrounding communities, according to the Parks Service -- a critical cash flow for area businesses.
Letty Mendez, left, and Elsa DeVito wait for customers at Gator Grill near the entrance to Everglades National Park. DeVito said she has seen an 85 percent drop in business since the park was closed by the government shutdown.
Empty tables at Gator Grill, where a lone customer was eating inside. Everglades National Park usually sees 2,723 visitors on an average October day, but the government shutdown has now lasted longer than a week.
Other ways the shutdown is affecting Florida:
Miami schools are operating short on staff because they've been unable to to check that new employees are eligible to work in the U.S. through the Department of Homeland Security's e-verify website.
“We have 123 new hires, mostly educators, who can’t start work,” Miami-Dade School District spokesman John Schuster told the Miami Herald
. “These are people who have been interviewed, selected and can’t begin work. That’s including vacancies at some of the schools with the most critical needs.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced they are closing campgrounds and parks because of the shutdown, including those in Stuart, Moore Haven, Clewiston, and Alva along Lake Okeechobee-fed waterways.
"I'm married, I've got three kids, I'm a disabled veteran, and I'm out of work now," said Matt Bowser, a member of the 4,000-strong union of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1897 at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field.
It was not immediately clear how many of EAFB's 5,300 civilian workers
were affected, but about 1,160 people -- about 72 percent of the civilian workforce -- were sent home without pay from Hurlburt Field, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News
According to a protestor, the union reps base workers ranging from civil engineers to commissary workers. Roughly 2,500 civilian military workers were back on the job on Monday
after a week of furlough, reports the Pensacola News-Journal, with priority for those whose jobs "directly support military missions."
It is unknown how long it will take before they receive back pay, or how many additional workers can expect to be reinstated before the shutdown ends.
Research critical to endangered species, water quality, and Everglades restoration has been hobbled
by the shutdown with 40 percent of the staff at NOAA's South East Fisheries Center sent home, forbidden to keep up with studies, experiments, and surveys. Long-term studies will be damaged if the shutdown continues, according to ecologist Dr. Margaret Miller:
"On the internal side, your agency understands that we know we have a gap in the data because we couldn't help it. But when you go to publish that work or submit to reviewers or publishers, it's no good. And that's where scientists are really put in a bind by this situation: Scientific implementation is curtailed and it jeopardizes long-term data sets."
Because of the federal government shutdown, Everglades National Park is off-limits -- including over 1,100 square miles of prime fishing waters.
"Charter guides received a message from the National Park Service... that they cannot take clients fishing in Florida Bay
until the feds get back to work," reports Keysnet.
Though the federal government is allowing states to re-open some national parks
, Florida Governor Rick Scott declined to use state funds for Everglades National Park despite damages to businesses that depend on park tourism
and a protest from commercial fishing guides denied access to park waters.
The protestors, aboard some 100 boats, also included restaurant employees and other Keys residents who depend on fishing tourism for a living.
"These are guides, these are bartenders, these are mates, they're captains, they're store owners, they're hotel owners, residents, so it's everybody getting together to stand up for what's going on because this really needs to get resolved before it gets any worse," said organizer Randy Towe, a fishing guide for 35 years.
According to the National Park Service, visitors to Everglades National Park spend some $147 million in surrounding communities each year.
In Niceville, Robyn Murray was among U.S. Department of Labor staff sent home without pay. She has already filed for unemployment and begun looking for part-time work
. Though her husband's job has not been affected, Murray told nwfdailynews.com that finances will be strained: "[The shutdown] is going to keep me from paying half of the rent or my car payment or a bill or two."
Thanks to the shutdown of Dry Tortugas National Park, no sea turtle nest monitoring will take place on seven islands in the Keys. A Florida Fish and Wildlife official told HuffPost that endangered green turtles may still be nesting in the area.
Florida has the highest number of Head Start and Early Head Start programs whose grant funding is tied to an October 1 cycle, Lilli Copp, director of the Head Start State Collaboration Office in Tallahassee, told The Huffington Post.
Nearly 10,000 children in Florida are potentially impacted. Head Start agencies provide preschool, medical, dental, mental-health, disabilities and nutritional services for children of working parents living at the poverty line -- many of whom will be unable to go to work without Head Start because they cannot afford childcare.
"It's not a choice they should have to make," Copp told The Orlando Sentinel
Already, 9 Head Start programs in the Tallahassee area were shuttered for a week before reopening Tuesday. Programs in Volusia county were going to close Monday, but will remain open another week through a line of credit
. Copp said Jacksonville programs may have to close on Friday; Suwannee Valley programs had enough other funding to stay open for six and a half weeks; Orange and Palm Beach Counties have enough to stay open through the end of October; and Hillsborough County can stay open through the end of November.
The longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely it is that Head Start programs will close -- affecting not only children and parents but also employees.
“They need to know that this situation is affecting a lot of families,” Victoria Thomas, a mom enrolled in a graduate program at Florida A&M University, told Bloomberg
. “I’m not sure if they don’t know, or if they don’t care.”