What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Shutdown takes a bite out of business in South Florida

The gates are open at the Everglades National Park, but with no one to collect entry fees, business is drying up. The partial government shutdown couldn't come at a worse time for the region, which depends on tourists and is suffering its second bad season in a row. From TSA officers to hurricane scientists, John Yang reports on how residents are hurting.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Twenty-five days and counting into the federal government shutdown, the impact is being felt far and wide.

    In Florida, John Yang found the ripple effects reaching the swamps of the Everglades, the tourist-packed airports and even future weather forecasts.

  • Garl Harrold:

    You guys are OK to get a little wet?

  • John Yang:

    For 17 years, nature guide Garl Harrold has been making a living leading tours through Everglades National Park.

  • Garl Harrold:

    If you look on the trees, you can actually see the waterline. And, pretty soon, it will be completely dried up.

  • John Yang:

    Taking people from around the world, like this couple from Germany, slogging through cypress swamps for up-close encounters with alligators, snakes, and an array of other wildlife.

  • Garl Harrold:

    We got red-shouldered hawks up here. There's actually a nest up around the corner.

  • John Yang:

    But the government shutdown is taking a big bite out of his business.

  • Garl Harrold:

    It's really slowing down.

  • John Yang:

    How slow?

  • Garl Harrold:

    Pretty slow. Our numbers are down, and we're getting cancellations from especially in Europe and abroad, because they don't want to come here.

  • John Yang:

    While the gates are open, there's no one to collect entry fees, and some apparently believe the park is closed. As a result, business is drying up for Harrold and other guides.

    How squeezed are you right now financially?

  • Garl Harrold:

    Pretty tight. Very tight. Actually, I have gone through most of my savings to just make my mortgage and the car payments and insurance.

  • John Yang:

    It would likely be even worse if it weren't for people like Peter Campbell. He does the daily chores that National Park Service workers did before the shutdown, staffing the main visitor center's information desk, taking out the trash, even cleaning the men's room.

  • Peter Campbell:

    Being a former school principal, it's not unusual to have to clean restrooms.

  • John Yang:

    Campbell's work is being funded by the nonprofit Florida National Parks Association. Jim Sutton runs the group. He says it's literally paying to keep the lights on.

    So, you're paying for the electricity.

  • Jim Sutton:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    Who's paying for the toilet paper?

  • Jim Sutton:

    I am.

  • John Yang:

    Who's paying for the soap?

  • Jim Sutton:

    I am.

  • John Yang:

    Some of the money comes from the park's gift shops, where business has also dropped during the shutdown. Spending more to maintain the park now could mean tough decisions in the future. But Sutton doesn't see any other choice.

  • Jim Sutton:

    My logic is, it's much easier to maintain it now than it is to catch up later, whenever the government does reopen.

  • John Yang:

    This couldn't come at a worse time for the Everglades and the businesses around it that rely on tourists. This is when they make their money. And once it's lost, it's lost forever.

    For Garl Harrold, it's the second bad season in a row. Last winter, the park was recovering from Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

    Of what you make in a year, how much do you make in this period?

  • Garl Harrold:

    Most of it.

  • John Yang:

    So if you lose business now?

  • Garl Harrold:

    Then it's hard to catch back up. And we're already suffering from Irma.

  • John Yang:

    How worried are you?

  • Garl Harrold:

    Pretty worried.

  • John Yang:

    Worry is something Cassandra Blackmon knows well. She's a TSA officer at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, a single mom who's not getting a paycheck.

  • Cassandra Blackmon:

    I have a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old. And it's hard to explain to them that I'm not getting a paycheck, because they see you go to work.

  • John Yang:

    Nationwide, 51,000 TSA agents are on the job without pay during the shutdown.

    Miami International Airport is one of several where officers are calling out sick, so many that, this past weekend, one concourse closed early. Blackmon says morale is so low that some of her TSA colleagues may quit.

    If President Trump or members of Congress were here, what would you say to them?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Cassandra Blackmon:

    What do I say to them? You know, I don't even think I can say that on TV. It's disgusting. It's very immature. It's like, I'm not getting what I want, so I'm going to whine about it and make the poor people suffer more.

  • John Yang:

    Eric Blake's family is down to one paycheck, his wife, Suzana. He's a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, working without pay. If he misses another paycheck, their financial forecast is bleak.

  • Eric Blake:

    Right now, I'm staring at a host of Christmas bills, not really knowing how I'm going to pay them. I have paid the minimum on all my credit cards. I have cut all of the nonessential — nonessential purchases.

  • John Yang:

    Blake's work is considered essential, but nearly 200 scientists who would be preparing for the next hurricane season are furloughed.

  • Eric Blake:

    Every year, we really focus our efforts on making better hurricane forecasts, intensity and track. We really pride ourselves on it. And right now, we're just unable to do it. We have a list of dozens of things we're trying to do. Right now, we're not going to doing any of them.

  • John Yang:

    And the center has had to cancel the first of three training classes for emergency managers from hurricane-prone areas. The other two are in doubt.

    Is it too much of a stretch to say that not working on the models now could cost lives in the coming hurricane season?

  • Eric Blake:

    It's not really that much of a stretch. If I were moving to Florida, and I would want my emergency manager to have the best possible information to make their decision. And without the training and outreach that the Hurricane Center does with FEMA, it just isn't possible.

  • John Yang:

    While Blake worries about the hurricane season ahead, Cassandra Blackmon, the TSA officer, is just trying to weather the shutdown.

  • Cassandra Blackmon:

    It's ridiculous. It's not fair to the middle class and the poor people, because a lot of federal employees are middle class. You don't qualify for anything. You make too much or you don't make enough. So we're stuck in the middle.

    And to not receive a paycheck is like — it's really devastating.

  • John Yang:

    And nature guide Garl Harrold is slogging through, one step at a time.

  • Garl Harrold:

    Just keep in mind, if it wasn't for the volunteers that are keeping the bathrooms clean and doing the stuff they're doing, we wouldn't have been able to do this.

  • John Yang:

    As he and others search for ways to survive the government shutdown.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in Everglades National Park.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, John.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest