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September 17, 2014

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Five ways the continuing shutdown is hurting Nevada

Government Shutdown: Las Vegas

The gates to Red Rock National Conservation Area are seen closed because of the federal government shutdown Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Launch slideshow »

There’s no doubt the government shutdown has taken a toll on the Las Vegas economy.

Regardless of whether Republicans and Democrats in Congress join to reopen the government and avert a default on the federal government’s debt payments this week, there’s no replacement to what’s already been lost.

As the government shutdown marks its 16th day, it has already stifled tourism in the Las Vegas area, caused cash-poor federal workers to spend less in the local economy, and has halted research and other federal projects.

If the shutdown continues, the effects only get worse.

Here’s a look at what the shutdown has caused and how it will get worse over time:

Tourism dollars draining from the Las Vegas economy

The Las Vegas area has already lost about $8.3 million in tourism dollars related to activities at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, said Christie Vanover, an on-call spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

The Boulder City Chamber of Commerce has lately moonlighted as a “mini travel agency,” advising travelers about the shutdown and trying to find alternate opportunities for them, said Jill Lagan, the chamber’s CEO.

Events involving thousands of anglers, swimmers and cyclists have been canceled at the lake.

Businesses that access the now-closed Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area have also reported losing tens of thousands of dollars a day due to the shutdown.

Federal government officials have given states the discretion to open national parks and recreation areas using state dollars, but Gov. Brian Sandoval declined to do so last week.

Small businesses losing money

The shutdown has also adversely affected some businesses in Boulder City that rely on Lake Mead for things such as boat tours and kayak rentals.

“If they can’t get into the park, they’re shut down, which means $0 in income for that business,” Lagan said. “Many of those workers have had to reach out and try to find other work.”

One of those businesses, the Las Vegas Boat Harbor and Lake Mead Marina, posted an open letter on its Facebook page urging Congress to reopen the government.

“We can only hope that those that represent us in Washington, D.C., start doing what they get paid to do: run the government, not shut it down,” the letter read.

Hundreds of furloughed workers aren’t spending money in the local economy

Lawrence Javier, 40, got a job at the end of September doing insulation work at McCarran International Airport after being out of work since March. Off unemployment, he was happy to get back to work.

Javier received three days' wages before he was furloughed without pay on account of a work stoppage at the Federal Aviation Administration site.

No more paycheck. No unemployment check.

“I have four kids, so at this point I just want to provide for my kids,” Javier said. “I just want to go back to work. I’m the primary breadwinner here.”

Standing at an AFL-CIO event at the Henderson office of Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., Javier said he’s counting his dollars, “even the gas to get over here.”

Nearby was Valerie Weisser, who works for the federal government in Boulder City.

She declined to name the agency where she works for fear that she’d lose her job, but she said she’s not getting a paycheck and is afraid her credit score will decline because she does not anticipate being able to pay her monthly bills for October.

“I earn $38,000 a year, not a lot of money, and certainly not enough to have a big savings account,” she said. “I don’t have any money to spend. … It’s disrupted everybody’s cash flow.”

Steve Hadsell is working without pay as a Transportation Security Administration employee at McCarran.

He’s also executive vice president of the American Federal Government Employees Local 1240 labor union.

“This is affecting me just like anybody else living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “Do I put food on the table or put gas in my car?”

He said he earns $36,000 a year, his wife has been unemployed since August, and he helps pay bills for his 22-year-old son. Although he’s hoping to later receive a paycheck for the work he’s doing now, he only got half a paycheck earlier this month due to the shutdown.

So they’ve cut back.

“As far as going out to eat and stuff like that, we don’t do that anymore,” he said.

Some programs have funding now, but they’re running out of money

Jeff Mohlenkamp, budget director for the state of Nevada, said the state is well positioned to keep processing federal unemployment benefits and food stamps and administering other joint federal-state programs.

That’s largely because the state’s using federal dollars appropriated before the government closed.

When those savings accounts begin to run dry later this month, the effects of the shutdown could be, in the words of Gov. Sandoval, “catastrophic.”

“If we’re here Monday and we’re still in a shutdown, give me a call back because things will probably start changing,” Mohlenkamp said.

In the event that the government doesn't open by the end of the month, local nonprofits say they'll have a difficult time providing food to people who would otherwise purchase food with government-subsidized food stamps.

"Should the government not be reopened on Nov. 1, Southern Nevada will immediately feel the effects," said Jodi Tyson, government affairs director for Three Square food bank in Las Vegas. "Food pantries will be overwhelmed."

In a similar situation, employees at the federal public defender’s office will stop getting paid Friday if Congress doesn’t approve a spending plan for the government.

“I am going to be having people working very hard for something that is absolutely necessary for our system of justice and they won’t be being paid,” said Rene Valladares, the federal public defender of Nevada.

He said he’s most worried about the secretarial staff who have been coming to him with concerns about how they’ll pay bills and put food on the table.

They’re required to work because the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution mandates that all those accused of a crime have the assistance of legal counsel.

The longer the government is closed, the less research gets done

Chris Fritsen, a researcher at Nevada’s Desert Research Institute, was supposed to be reviewing research in Washington this week for NASA. That’s not happening because of the government shutdown.

He’s also not writing grants for research next year because nobody’s there to receive applications at the federal government offices he works with.

Demonstrating the breadth of the shutdown, the events in Washington have stymied government-sponsored research in Antarctica, which in turn could hamper Fritsen’s work in Nevada.

“Those are collaborators and data I rely on to write papers and plan future research programs in this area, so that’s all at risk,” he said of the programs in Antarctica that could be suspended.

To date, the Desert Research Institute has received 25 “stop work” orders. This translates to losing about $20,000 a day out of the institute’s $113,000 per day budget.

The institute’s president, Steven Wells, sent letters to all members of Nevada’s congressional delegation yesterday making them aware of these losses, according to an internal memo obtained by the Sun.

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