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“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” – Thomas Jefferson

The damage assessment from the recent government shutdown is just beginning. We’ve read about people who treated our irreplaceable resources terribly, damaging delicate vegetation, dumping waste, and leaving graffiti. The Coalition has released a summary of impact surveys, undertaken by our members, detailing some of the shutdown impacts at national parks from Cape Cod National Seashore to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. While this damage to our natural and cultural resources is devastating and disturbing, there are unseen impacts caused by the recent shutdown that will also leave an unfortunate and lasting legacy.

Like all our Coalition members, my life is strongly tied to the National Park System. I am the Communications and Advocacy Coordinator for the Coalition and my husband is a current NPS employee. We spent a lot of time these past few weeks worrying about our finances, unsure of how long it would be until we received our next paycheck. We have a mortgage, student loans, car payments, and all the expected utility bills. We have young children, which means we also have a plethora of childcare expenses, doctor visits, and frequent trips to the grocery store.

We were lucky. We had access to lines of credit and a supportive and generous family who could help us out if things got tight. But for many Americans, the shutdown did not just cause “a little bit of pain” or represent a small inconvenience. It was trying to figure out how to stay afloat with no income. How to pay your childcare provider to watch your kids while you worked without pay as an essential employee. Could you defer that loan payment? Skip the credit card? It was a scramble. We were just waiting for our government, who is entrusted with “the care of human life and happiness,” to get it together.

Now the shutdown has ended, and the federal government must regain trust; frankly, they’re off to a rocky start. We are still living in the midst of uncertainty, wondering if the government will shut down again in a week. There is an emotional toll caused by the political gamesmanship. And there is a toll taken on the future of our federal workforce. We will lose current federal employees who can’t continue to ride out the lack of paychecks. We will lose new, young talent who are eager, motivated, and looking for their first job. Would you seek out employment with a government that can’t guarantee you a regular paycheck? Or would you turn to the private sector, which suddenly seems more stable?

As advocates for our national parks, we need to make sure our voices are loud in support of the parks and the people who care for them. The fight to protect our national park system and public lands is far from over. As the damage assessments continue, we also need to keep an eye on the unseen impacts, the long-term consequences of uncertainty, anxiety, and financial hardship. This shutdown was incredibly harmful, and we should expect better. Where is Jefferson’s good government, the one of the people and by the people? Our elected officials are part of a government that exists for the people. They need to start acting like it.