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Local News

Much of federal government still running in Will County

More than 7,000 federal workers furloughed in Illinois

Cars overflowed the parking lot at the Social Security Administration office last week – a sign that many federal government operations keep going amid the longest shutdown ever.

The shutdown has entered its fourth week and is taking a toll – especially on thousands of government workers going without pay.

More than 7,000 federal employees in Illinois are furloughed, according to shutdown information provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville. The shutdown is slowing down mortgage approvals, interrupting food safety inspections and has the potential to hit average Americans where it hurts if income tax refunds are delayed.

The idled federal workers include the staff at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. But if you wanted to take a hike at Midewin during the snowy weekend you could have done it.

"The office is closed, which is where the welcome center is, but the trails are still open to walkers," said Connie Heinrich, treasurer for the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Alliance, a support group for the park.

Closing the welcome center means a winter lecture series has been suspended. And, new visitors to Midewin may be bewildered as they roam the huge park without the guidance that staff offers, especially if they've come to look for the bison that graze the prairie.

The bison should be OK during the shutdown.

"They're pretty much independent," Heinrich said.

Just north of Midewin, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery remains open during the shutdown. Burials continue for veterans at the cemetery in Elwood.

The Department of Veteran Affairs remains funded during the shutdown.

That means the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital's outpatient clinic in Joliet is open, too.

Many veterans, however, are seriously affected by the shutdown, said Rick Fox, public affairs officer for Hines.

The federal government employs a higher percentage of veterans than the workforce as a whole, Fox said. Hines is trying to get out the word to furloughed veterans that there are services available that may help them pay bills or get counseling as they go without paychecks.

"We're doing everything that we can to let them know that we're here and point them to these resources," Fox said.

Furloughed veterans interested in what services are available can call Hines at 708-202-8387, ext. 21843. Fox noted that the Joliet outpatient clinic also has a social worker on staff who can meet with veterans.

The shutdown did not stop forecasts and weather advisories coming out of the National Weather Service center in Romeoville during the winter snowstorm over the weekend.

"We are performing forecast duties," Stephen Rodriguez, meteorologist at the Romeoville center, said Friday evening. There are no interruptions in our Weather Service forecasts and life safety warnings."

Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont also remains open.

The shutdown has stalled implementation of the 2019 farm bill and shut out farmers from federal loans for the time being, said Mark Schneidewind, manager of the Will County Farm Bureau.

That will be a bigger problem if the shutdown stretches to the planting season. But Schneidewind said farmers are worried the shutdown controversy is diverting government attention from trade disputes that are limiting markets for corn and soybeans.

"We want them to be focusing on trade issues," he said.

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