Senior Center celebrates end of shutdown
by Bradley Hartsell
The folks at the Tommy Thompson Senior Center in Newnan are breathing a sigh of relief, with a legislative deal being struck late Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that allowed federal governmental operations to resume on Thursday.
“When I turned on the news this morning, I saw [the shutdown was over],” said Sadie Miller, an active member of the senior center on Hospital Road. “We feel good for now.”
Karen Larson added, “It’s a relief, a much-needed one.”
Barriers came down at federal memorials and National Park Service sites and thousands of furloughed federal workers — relieved but wary — returned to work across the country Thursday after 16 days off the job due to the partial government shutdown, according to Associated Press.
Among the sites reopening across the county were Yosemite National Park in California, the Smithsonian Institution's network of popular museums, and the World War II memorial in Washington, which had been the scene of protests during the shutdown.
The U.S. House and Senate voted late Wednesday to end the shutdown that began when Republicans tried unsuccessfully to use must-pass funding legislation to derail the president's landmark health care law, according to Associated Press. Early Thursday, President Obama signed the measure and directed all agencies to reopen promptly.
The government unlocked office doors, carried barriers away from national monuments and lifted entrance gates at parks across the country.
The relief felt by furloughed federal employees was tempered by worry that the truce might not last much past the holidays. Congress approved government funding only through Jan. 15.
To head off a default, the package gives the government the authority to borrow what it needs through Feb. 7, Associated Press reported. Treasury officials will be able to use bookkeeping maneuvers to delay a potential default for several weeks beyond that date, as they have done in the past. Among the maneuvers, officials can suspend contributions to one of the pension plans used by federal retirees.
In the meantime, lawmakers will try to find agreement on how to replace this year's across-the-board spending cuts with more orderly deficit reduction.
"I hope this is the end of this," said Vice President Joe Biden, who greeted workers returning to the Environmental Protection Agency with hugs, handshakes and muffins, Associated Press reported. But Biden acknowledged, "There's no guarantees of anything."
Here in Newnan, the Thompson Center was in jeopardy during the government shutdown. Not only were all area senior centers, including Grantville’s, the other center in Coweta, facing shutdowns if a deal was not reached by Nov. 12, but the Thompson Center was in more immediate danger because transportation vouchers on which many of its seniors rely were within two weeks of running out.
With so many seniors being picked up to come to the center and another handful receiving Meals on Wheels, even a couple of days without the center would be crippling to many older seniors who depend on the center for food, medicine and socializing.
“There’s a lot of people here who rely on the transportation, the Meals on Wheels and the socializing,” Larson said.
Now that Washington is up and running, the Thompson Center will go back to a regular schedule, one without all the worry of the last couple of weeks.
In fact, Tommy Thompson Senior Center Director Ida Johnson had a family in her office early Thursday signing up to be clients.
“I told them if they had come last week, we wouldn’t be doing this,” said Johnson. As luck would have it, the family came at the right time, when the future of the center is much clearer.
“We were excited to see the news. This is home away from home for our seniors. This place comes alive in the morning when they get here,” she said.
Last week, many of the center’s clients wrote letters to the office of U.S. Representative Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga. Third District, urging him to do something to keep the center open. Just a couple days later, a representative from Westmoreland’s office called the Thompson Center and told Johnson he hoped the shutdown would be resolved “by this Thursday” — which is precisely what happened.