CHICAGO – Hundreds of furloughed federal workers returned to jobs in campgrounds, wildlife refuges and federal offices in Illinois on Thursday with the end of the partial government shutdown after Congress passed a temporary spending bill and lifted the government's borrowing limit.
"I've heard untold numbers of 'welcome backs' this morning in our office, from attorneys to their legal assistants and other support staff," said Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago. "They've being welcomed back with cheery greetings and open arms."
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen said people were eager to get back to work.
"We did have a lot of folks working on an IOU for deferred pay," Petersen said. "To have the full team on board is definitely an improvement."
For a group of suburban Chicago eighth-graders, the end of the shutdown came a few days late. The students from Lincoln Middle School in Park Ridge flew to Washington on Saturday, a trip they'd planned for nearly a year and decided to take despite the shutdown.
When they arrived, many of the sights they'd hoped to see – from the Jefferson Memorial to the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History – were all closed.
So was the Lincoln Memorial, but the kids did get to see that – thanks to a group of protesters.
"They were picketing, and they picked up the barricades ... and we were there about an hour later and walked right up [to the memorial]," said Tom Nasshan, a social studies teacher.
Nasshan said the kids were disappointed, particularly because they did not get to see the Constitution at the National Archives. "The kids just studied the Constitution and they were all excited to go see it," he said.
But not all was lost. "They got to see a freedom of speech and freedom of assembly," he said, referring to protests going on in the city. They even exercised their own freedom of speech outside the Capitol. Unable to get inside, they chanted, "Get back to work."
"The cops gave us a cheer and were laughing about it," he said.
At the Chicago office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said the office is bracing for the avalanche of complaints that could not be filed during the shutdown.
"We have to cram that work into what we are already doing," he said.
Analysts at the federally funded Illinois Department of Employment Security were furloughed during the shutdown, leading the department to say that its scheduled Friday release of the state unemployment rate for September will be indefinitely delayed.
In other states the shutdown forced Head Start programs to close, but only one in Illinois shuttered its preschools and for only a day, said Lauri Morrison-Frichtl, executive director of the Illinois Head Start Association. The Head Start early education programs in Illinois don't start their fiscal years on Oct. 1, as some programs do, so they were able to continue operating, she said.
The Two Rivers Head Start Agency in suburban Chicago did close its programs for a day because of temporary trouble getting federal funds from a program management system without federal employees available to help solve the problem.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said that furloughed employees were returning to work Thursday, allowing the reopening of boat ramps and campsites on federal lands and the National Great Rivers Museum in Alton.
Some campsites, however, will remain closed because of regularly scheduled closures for the winter. Corps of Engineers spokesman Ron Fournier said just seven of the 26 campsites in the Rock Island district closed because of furloughs are reopening. The rest are remaining shut because of planned closures.
Campers can find out which sites are reopening by going to the Corps' website or Corps district Facebook pages, Fournier said.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island district: http://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Media/NewsReleases.aspx
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis district: