Liberty Bell locked up as part of federal shutdown in Philly

Tourists from around the world were turned away Tuesday from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and other historic sites in Philadelphia because Independence National Historical Park was closed as part of the federal government’s shutdown.

UPDATED 4:20 p.m.

Tourists from around the world were turned away Tuesday from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and other historic sites in Philadelphia because Independence National Historical Park was closed as part of the federal government’s shutdown.

Only federal services deemed “essential” were protected from the shutdown, which went into effect when Congress failed to meet a midnight deadline to pass a new spending plan.

Retired engineer Darrell Jahn flew to the city from Minnesota to check out the Independence National Historical Park. Now he’s packing up his bags and taking his tourist dollars to Virginia.

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“It’s sad. That’s all you can say,” he said. “Nobody wants to give, and so they shut it down. I hope it shuts down for a month so it really sinks in, and people really start to understand what they did.”

Manfred Weschitz, who was visiting the park from Austria, had harsh words for Congress.

“I think they are all crazy,” he said. “They want to destroy, to be against everything.”

Weschitz was especially baffled that the U.S. government had slammed on the brakes due to a disagreement over the country’s health care law. Senate Democrats have rejected proposals by the Republican-controlled House to keep the government running, but only while postponing the Affordable Care Act.

Jane Cowley, the Independence National Historical Park’s public affairs officer, said that an estimated 10,000 people usually visit the site each day.

“There’s no question that the resources here at Independence National Historical Park are one of the largest tourist draws to Philadelphia,” she said.

Three satellite locations of the Independence Visitor Center will remain operational, including the City Hall Visitor Center, the Fairmount Park Welcome Center, and Sister Cities Park Visitor Center.

In spite of the shutdown, Independence Mall was not a ghost town Tuesday.

Several tourists examined the park’s permanent, outdoor installation “President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in Making a New Nation,” and peered through glass at the Liberty Bell. The National Constitution Center, which is a private, non-profit institution, remained open during its regularly scheduled hours.

More than a dozen furloughed federal workers upset about the government shutdown rallied on the mall at noon, holding signs that read, “800,000 Unemployed!” and “We Are Not Bargaining Chips.” They chanted, “Congress, do your work today!”

New Jersey resident Adam Duncan, a public affairs assistant at the Independence National Historical Park, said he cannot afford to be furloughed without pay.

“We don’t make $200,000 a year, despite what a lot of people believe,” he said. “A lot of our workers here make $26,000, $30,000, $40,000 a year, so it makes a big difference not having that income.”

Lynn Kirshenbaum, who helps coordinate services for homeless people at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Philadelphia office, said about 250 employees there had been furloughed, including her.

Because of the shutdown, she said, she won’t be able to work with her colleagues on a nationwide plan to end homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless people by 2015.

“It’s very sad that [Congress] can’t come to a compromise,” she said, adding that the shutdown “affects a lot of lower-income people.”

‪Other government programs were put on hold as well. ‬Terry Gillen, the city’s director of federal affairs, said it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to obtain a passport or visa.

She said first-time homebuyers who are looking to get government-backed mortgages could also run into delays.

And some local programs receiving government grants could be affected, she said.

Residents will keep getting Social Security and Medicare benefits, federal officials said. Food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, will continue to be available through the shutdown.

Holli Senior, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s health department, said the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, will still operate here in the short term.

The Philadelphia School District said the city’s Head Start programs will not be affected unless a shutdown drags on for several months.

Victoria Lupica, a spokeswoman at the Philadelphia International Airport, said flights will not be impacted Tuesday. Air traffic controllers are staying on the job, she said.

And the Affordable Care Act’s new health insurance exchanges still opened Tuesday.

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