BOSTON — Massachusetts is a hub for federal services in this region, with some 30,000 on the government payroll. But on Tuesday — the first day of the U.S. government shutdown — many federal functions were curtailed or closed, from beaches to back offices.
If you tried to get in touch with a federal worker on Tuesday, you might have heard a phone message like this one, from a staffer in the Boston office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:
I am a non-essential employee and consequently been ordered to stay home. As soon as the government shutdown is complete then I will return to work. And I am sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you.
That’s Carolyn Federoff, who is also an official with the union that represents government workers. She said more than 95 percent of staff members in her department were furloughed.
Other agencies taking big hits included veterans housing agencies and the IRS. But others were fully staffed, or close to it.
“If we have employees who are engaged in emergency services, they’re still on the job,” Federoff said. “That includes air traffic controllers, VA nurses and doctors, Bureau of Prisons guards, Border Patrol, they’re on the job. We also have Social Security workers who have been declared essential.”
And while it may have been hard to reach federal agencies by phone or online, some physical visitors to agencies in the federal JFK building in Government Center were having some luck.
Offices there that were open for business at least part of Tuesday included immigration, public health and most law enforcement agencies.
But the cafeteria closed early because so many workers were out. And if you wanted something from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office, it was likely a no go.
Rob Bohn, an intern for the senator, was on his way out — early and indefinitely.
“I don’t know when I’m coming in next,” he said. “I talked to my boss and he was like, ‘Hey, Rob, I’ll let you know when we’re coming back in, but I guess as for now we’ll call it quits,’ or whatever.”
Morale was low, Bohn said, particularly because constituents seeking help weren’t getting their calls answered.
“We basically had to ignore them,” he said. “And that’s really, really bad. Our government should be there helping these people out and we can’t provide those basic services.”
Still, some state residents, like Pam Welch and Leola Campbell, were hopeful they’d get service. The couple waited outside the federal building for an appointment to get a green card for Campbell, who is a South African citizen.
“We’re married and since DOMA fell she can sponsor me now,” Campbell said.
“We’ve been married for six years, wedded for six years,” Welch said, “so we’ve been waiting a long time and hoping this appointment happens today.”
It did, and Campbell got her green card. But if the happy couple wanted to celebrate at the beach near their Provincetown home, they’d have to wait. Like most national parks, the Cape Cod National Seashore was closing up for the duration.
So was the JFK Library in Boston. But there are other privately funded landmark sites, including the African Meeting House, the Paul Revere House and the Old State House, which did plan to stay open.