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Local federal parks, offices open again as government shutdown ends

By Corene Brisendine

Everyone’s back to work.

For now, at least.

With Congress passing a last-minute bill to raise the debt ceiling and end the partial government shutdown — pending another battle over the budget — federal employees in Manhattan returned to work Thursday.

“We’re thrilled,” said Heather Whitlaw, field office supervisor at the U.S. Fish, Game and Wildlife office that has been closed for the past three weeks.

Whitlaw said employees there were informed Wednesday night they could return to work, and it was confirmed again Thursday morning.

Lisa Ross, WIC program coordinator at the Riley County Health Department, said the staff is still operating under the mandate by Kansas Department of Health and Environment under which vouchers are being distributed on a month-by-month basis.

Ross said they normally issue WIC checks in three-month increments, but since Oct. 9, health department staff members have been issuing only one month’s worth of vouchers.

As a result, everyone re-certified in October will have to go back in November to pick up vouchers.

“November is going to be a hectic month for us,” she said.

Ross said they would continue to give out vouchers one month at a time until directed otherwise by KDHE officials.

“This might all happen again in January,” she said. “So, I think they are just being cautious.”

Despite the changes, the health department is still accepting new WIC clients and re-certifying existing ones.

As for other federally funded services at the health department, Ross said they are operating normally and have been throughout the shutdown. She said that they were never notified any other federal funding was affected and therefore conducted business as usual.

Agricultural Research Service personnel in Manhattan would not comment on the end of the shutdown, but the phone was answered, and calls directed to staff.

Tuttle Creek Corps of Engineers’ phone message on Thursday said its offices were still closed as a result of the shutdown, but the Corps website noted that federally operated parks at Tuttle Creek would be open Friday. The popular fishing spot known as the tubes was open Thursday morning, though, and at least 10 people already were out fishing.

Fort Riley was not affected by the end of the shutdown because all employees returned to work Oct. 7 after officials determined that military personnel and supportive services were covered.

Kansas’ Republican senators split their votes, but agreed that government spending needs to be addressed.

Sen. Pat Roberts took a hard-line stance by voting against the measure Wednesday.

“Debt limits were put into place to encourage debate and negotiation over out-of-control government spending,” he said in a statement released on Wednesday. “This deal breaks with that spirit.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, who voted in favor of the compromise, expressed a different view of the situation.

“This good-faith deal calms fear of default for now, but we must take advantage of the next 90 days to finally work together and get our spending under control,” he said in a release.

“Without action to begin addressing our staggering debt and deficits, our country will inevitably default in the future because we will no longer have the ability to pay our bills.”

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