Federal shutdown felt in Lake, Porter counties
BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ email@example.com October 1, 2013 6:18PM
This was the scene at the West Beach entry at the Indiana Dunes Naitonal Lakeshore Tuesday. | Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune
Updated: November 3, 2013 6:31AM
The federal government shut down Tuesday, but many federal agencies in Northwest Indiana continued to operate as normal — or close to it.
Most of the agencies involved in law enforcement and the justice system, such as the U.S. District Court and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hammond, the U.S. Marshals Office and local agents with the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, are considered exempt from the furlough and go on working as normal during a shutdown.
The shutdown also will not end federally backed loans to local home buyers. However, Peter Novak, executive director of the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors, said he has been told that some of the loans, such as those backed by the Federal Housing Authority and the Veteran’s Administration, will take longer to process.
“It’s certainly going to stymie the market,” Novak said.
Novak said the Realtors group does not track what kinds of loans home buyers in Northwest Indiana use, so he wasn’t sure how many people would be affected by the longer wait times to get their loans approved. One area of concern, he said, was whether the shutdown hits consumer confidence. If people are concerned about the economy, they can shy away from buying homes, which could be bad news for the region.
The housing market has seen improvement for the year and even extending to the end of last year. Those gains could take a hit if the shutdown continues and people get scared about buying a home, Novak said.
“That would be a very bad thing,” he said.
The shutdown will also have a slight affect for the Gary Housing Authority, which was recently taken over by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development. Jereon Brown, a spokesman for HUD, said that the department’s travel dollars have been frozen, so that the director of GHA, who is based in Detroit, will have to work remotely. Day-to-day operations are expected to continue as normal, however.
The shutdown did close the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the local IRS office. Visitors were greeted with signs telling them they were closed.
Hammond resident Maria Moreno tried to drop of a payment at the Merrillville IRS office.
“Well, I guess they have to do what they have to do,” Moreno said.
Phone calls to the national lakeshore’s visitor center were being handled by Indiana Dunes Tourism, which owns and shares the center with the national lakeshore.
Lorelei Weimer, executive director for Indiana Dunes Tourism, said the shutdown of the park has created some issues for the tourism group. Although the region is in between peak seasons right now, there are still empty nesters and other travelers who still make a point to visit when the national park isn’t so busy.
However, Weimer said, Porter County is luckier than other areas with shuttered national parks because it has the Indiana Dunes State Park as another option.
“The great part is it’s an opportunity to let people know about the state park,” she said.
The tourism group has been working to let people know that the state park and other local beaches remain open so that visitors who only knew about the national park won’t cancel their trips, Weimer said. This is especially important as the region enters its next peak season when the trees start turning colors, she said.