Aleathia Manigault visited the Charleston IRS office shortly after lunchtime Tuesday, only to discover the lights were out and the door was locked.
“In the event of a government shutdown, this office will be closed,” a sign in the window said.
Manigault, a sweetgrass basket-weaver who lives in West Ashley, was annoyed at the speed that federal work came to a halt.
“Now where do I go to pay?” she said of the monthly installment plan she had set up to give Uncle Sam her hard-earned tax dollars.
“This is one big mess,” she added.
Around Charleston, thousands of people awoke wondering when the government would come back to life as the first hours of the Washington gridlock-linked shutdown ticked away.
Doors were abruptly bolted throughout the region, including at three National Park sites and in a slew of defense, agricultural, training and public service offices.
“We heard it over here at Fort Moultrie as well — ‘disappointed,’ ” said Dawn Davis, chief of interpretations and education with the Park Service, describing the mood of visitors turned away from tour-boat rides to Fort Sumter.
Some offices remained open. One example was the immigration assistance office run by the shutdown-immune Department of Homeland Security, where eight people were seated in line at midday waiting to be processed.
After just a single day, how severe the shutdown will affect Charleston financially has yet to be determined. But with no end in sight — and the potential to last days or even weeks — everything from October mortgage payments to college tuition could be at risk.
“It’s going to put a lot of people on edge,” said Frank Hefner, an economist at the College of Charleston. “I think everyone should be worried.”
The nearest measurable event was the recent government furlough known as “sequestration,” in which thousands of local federal defense workers lost about six days of pay when they were ordered to stay home this summer.
During that event, eateries around the Charleston region’s government installations reported a noticeable drop in lunches served, while workers reported losing thousands of dollars in pay and taking steps to spend less on extras.
Perhaps the most noticeable workforce shift Tuesday came at Joint Base Charleston, where much of the civilian workforce was sent home, some after just four hours on the job. At last count there were more than 5,000 civilian employees at the base, though an undetermined number would likely stay on the job as considered vital to the mission.
Those who did leave completed “an orderly shutdown” of the tasks hanging around their desks before heading out, a spokesman said.
Nationwide, more than 800,000 government employees are on furlough, affecting a variety of government services, among them federal loans to buy homes and enrollment into programs.
Dealing with it
With the fight still stewing in D.C., some of the local political offices went into contingency mode.
Republican S.C. Sen. Tim Scott’s staff said his Washington and Charleston offices will remain open but with limited staff during the shutdown.
The Charleston office will handle emergency casework on a limited basis, a spokesman said, and both offices will field as many calls and answer as many constituent questions as possible. Calls to his Columbia and Greenville offices will be forwarded here.
One of the lesser-known federal offices closed Tuesday included non-essential personnel at the low-profile, high-priority Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston, where some 10,000 officers from more than 80 federal agencies are trained each year.
“This has happened in all FLETC offices,” confirmed Joseph Wright, of the FLETC office in Glynco, Ga. He would not say how many employees are involved.
The FLETC website homepage carried a caution that “due to a lapse in federal funding,” the site won’t be actively managed. Information may not be up to date and “transactions submitted via this website might not be processed,” it also said.
In contrast, the Army Corps of Engineers in Charleston said it has enough project money or fiscal 2013 funds still available, to keep going at practically its full staffing level through Friday.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said recipients of the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program should continue to use their vouchers, even though the federal government has classified the program as a “non-essential” government service.
DHEC said vendors in South Carolina also should continue to honor the WIC vouchers, and that the state health department will use reserve money to continue funding the program until Oct. 15. WIC provides supplemental nutrition assistance to women and children.
Meanwhile, South Carolina announced Tuesday that employers will not be penalized because of the inability to E-Verify a new hire within three business days during the shutdown, the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said.
“I want to assure employers that during the time the federal government is shut down, LLR’s Office of Immigrant Worker Compliance will not penalize them for not being able to verify that their new hires are authorized to work in the United States,” Director Holly Pisarik said.
The shutdown also drew comment from Gov. Nikki Haley. Asked about the feud between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, Haley answered, “Can we replace every one of them?”
She said a shutdown of the government would never happen at the state level, and “that should never be on the table.”
“And we’re allowing D.C. to do this over and over,” she said while addressing an Urban Land Institute South Carolina conference on Kiawah Island.
She also blasted the President Barack Obama’s health care reform that is at the root of the dispute. “Obamacare is terrible for businesses, and I’ll say that over and over again,” she said.
Haley blamed the shutdown on a lack of leadership within both parties, but ultimately, she added, it’s Obama’s job to call legislators to his office “and get it done.”
John McDermott and Bo Petersen contributed to this report. Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.