York County shutdown casualties now official: Head Start, Kings Mountain

adys@heraldonline.comOctober 4, 2013 

A closed sign hangs outside of the visitors’ center at Kings Mountain National Military Park, which is closed because of government shutdown.

ROBERT LAHSER — rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

  • DHEC: Keep WIC program running through October

    Despite the government shutdown that marks the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program “non-essential,” the state Department of Health and Environmental Control has come up with contingency money to keep it operating through October, agency officials said Friday.

    WIC benefits had been scheduled to end Oct. 15, halting assistance for almost 125,000 people in the state – 7,300 in York, Chester and Lancaster counties. WIC, paid for exclusively by federal money, costs $2.6 million a week in South Carolina.

    The move, using agency savings from last year, also might force DHEC to furlough some or all of its 3,500 employees for periods next year.

    “This staff has worked with me for the past 18 months to cut down on expenses and become more efficient,” DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said Friday. “The savings we have realized are being reinvested in the citizens of South Carolina by keeping important protections in place while the federal government sorts things out.

    “We are hopeful that the federal government will reimburse the state for its work during this time, but if not, the employees at DHEC are pulling together to make sure the citizens of South Carolina are protected and supported."

    Andrew Dys

National Parks officials Friday canceled the popular Battle of Kings Mountain anniversary events scheduled through Monday, citing the federal government shutdown.

Also Friday, more than 70 Head Start employees began furloughs, and more than 860 pre-kindergarten children will be without preschool, because all eight area Head Start centers have run out of money due to the shutdown. Closures start Monday.

The Kings Mountain battleground in western York County is one of South Carolina’s top 10 tourist sites, with hundreds of thousands visitors annually.

The anniversary of the pivotal Revolutionary War battle annually attracts as many as 10,000 visitors. With warm, sunny weather forecast, officials had expected near-record crowds for the 233rd anniversary at Kings Mountain National Military Park.

“The public, the people of not just the Carolinas but from all over, really enjoy this anniversary event,” said Chris Revels, chief ranger at the park. “It is the biggest weekend of the year for us.”

The park closed and furloughed 17 workers Monday when the shutdown went into effect. Only Revels and two other law enforcement rangers are still working. It remains unclear whether those three law enforcement people responsible for park security and safety will be paid.

Hundreds of volunteers, living history interpreters, speakers, lecturers, and re-enactors were notified Friday of the cancelation, Revels said.

If the shutdown were to be ended by Sunday, he said, the park would re-open Monday on the anniversary but for limited activities.

The shutdown has threatened health and nutrition programs for poor children and mothers and shuttered 20 Head Start programs across the country. The Carolina Community Actions Head Start program that serves York, Chester, Lancaster and Union counties finished classes Friday and will remain closed until money to operate is restored, Head Start officials said.

“The shutdown by these politicians is holding our children hostage,” said Tavian White, a father who sends two children to Head Start.

Several parents were frustrated and scrambling to find child care options for next week.

One teacher who will be furloughed, Juanita Foster, said two parents volunteered to assist others next week by watching children as parents work or attend school themselves.

“This hurts the children and working parents,” said parent Shanika Smith.

Federal courts in South Carolina remain open, although some civil cases will be postponed. Jurors who have received a summons for duty are expected to report to individual courthouses, officials with the Clerk of Court office in Columbia said.

In Rock Hill, the first stage of an effort to prepare city-owned land for development has been stalled until the government shutdown is over.

A contractor working for the Environmental Protection Agency was told to pack up and leave Rock Hill on Tuesday, while collecting samples on property just outside downtown.

The contractor’s job is to assess the safety of the former city annex property, also once used by the National Fence Co., before Rock Hill can enter a clean-up agreement with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The EPA was giving the city “in-kind” contractor services to help prepare the land for future development.

Until the shutdown is over and the Atlanta-based EPA contractor can return, city officials say, the clean-up is on hold.

The property does not pose a health concern for residents, officials said.

A separate city project is also on delay until the shutdown is over.

The EPA is helping pay for stormwater drainage system improvements in the Hagins-Fewell neighborhood, but the federal employee assigned as liaison for the project is on furlough.

Stormwater work will continue, officials said, but until the EPA’s contribution returns, the project will not be finished.

Anna Douglas contributed.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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