How the suburbs are dealing with the shutdown
A day after dozens of Mississippi veterans crossed barricades at the national World War II Memorial honoring their service, a group of 91 Chicago-area veterans is set to likewise brave the federal government shutdown and take an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
The veterans will board a plane this morning at Midway Airport for their trip to the nation's capital, where the highlight normally is the visit to the memorial -- often some World War II veterans' only chance to see it. The memorial now sits barricaded because a congressional budget stalemate cut off funding.
Jody Kopsky of Palatine, president of Honor Flight Chicago, said Tuesday her group briefly considered postponing the flight, but realized rescheduling would be all but impossible.
"We're going. We'll make it work," said Kopsky. "We've already paid for the flight, we've got the buses and the volunteers. We have a full plane going -- our families, our vets, everyone is planning on it."
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Highland Park Republican, is planning to meet them there at around noon "to stand in solidarity with his fellow veterans," spokesman Lance Trover said. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, and U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, and Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat, say they will be there as well.
House Republican lawmakers including Roskam on Tuesday pushed piecemeal budget plans that could open the memorial and other national parks, but Democrats criticized the idea as gamesmanship, and none were approved.
So Chicago's World War II veterans could have to try their luck with the barricades today.
"We're hoping if they let them in, they'll let us in," Kopsky said of the Mississippi group.
The early hang-ups caused by the government shutdown have given headaches to other suburban residents, as well. Most agree that the troubles will only multiply the longer the stalemate lasts.
Joe Gore of Algonquin, a regional business agent for the Federal Aviation Administration, said he was furloughed even though he and his workers are tasked with making sure airlines at O'Hare International Airport and elsewhere meet federal safety standards.
He said he's dealing with making the personal financial decisions that come with the possibility of being unpaid for a while as lawmakers fight in Washington.
But more importantly, Gore said, he and his fellow members of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union help ensure airlines are following rules that keep travelers safe. So taking them off the job could be a problem if the shutdown lasts, he argued.
"It'd be like telling the people on I-90 there won't be any troopers out there today," Gore said.
The FAA said Monday as the shutdown loomed that it had contingency plans to keep flights safe. And air traffic controllers remain on the job, so flights -- including those at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling -- have continued.
David Kolssak, acting chairman of the airport's board, does not see any immediate effect on operations and safety, though administrative support workers were furloughed Tuesday.
In some cases, the federal government's shutdown will mean local organizations stepping in to help. During the shutdown, the food stamps program largely should work as planned, but extra benefits given under the federal Women, Infants and Children program are on hold.
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services says it has cash to fund WIC for about two weeks.
After that, Charles McLimans, executive director at Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville, said some of the more than 600 single mothers his agency helps might need more baby formula and other specific items they normally receive under WIC.
In particular, he said, baby formula isn't cheap and isn't typically donated and is therefore bought by the pantry.
"These are what we call our big-ticket items," McLimans said. "It puts an additional strain on agencies that are already doing that work."
Local governments that get federal money similarly aren't seeing direct problems yet.
Arlington Heights gets about $300,000 in federal funding each year for local projects. Village Manager Bill Dixon said the village isn't owed any money from that right now, "but a prolonged shutdown could potentially have some impact on that."
Applying for federal grants also is on hold.
"We try to monitor federal grants and apply for those when there's something that's appropriate and I suspect the window on those opportunities is closed for now," Dixon said.