130 NATCHEZ TRACE EMPLOYEES HEADED BACK TO WORK MONDAY
By Eileen Bailey
About 130 federal employees with the Natchez Trace Parkway will be headed back to work Monday after legislation that would end a partial government shutdown passed both Houses of Congress.
Federal employees kept a watchful eye on proceedings Friday as House Republicans joined Democrats in approving the bill, 401-17. The Senate later passed the bill Senate and sent it on to President Clinton for his expected signature.
Gordon Wissinger, chief ranger with the Natchez Trace Parkway, said since passage of the bill was pending late Friday only a handful of employees will be back on duty this weekend. But on Monday all 130 employees are expected to return to work.
U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said Friday that the House's move to reopen the federal government through Jan. 26 was the right decision but not an easy one to reach.
Wicker said 13 members of the 73-member freshman Republican class, of which he is president, remain adamantly opposed. He said the other 60 followed the recommendations and urgings of the leadership.
"I think we are making fine progress." he said. "This is the first ray of hope I've seen in days."
Wicker said the debate is making progress not only about the general idea of a balanced budget in seven years but about specific issues, too.
Wicker said he is part of a movement in the centrist organizations called the Republican Alliance and the Democratic Coalition to find common ground on which to build enough votes for a majority on the major issues.
He also said that Clinton must put a balanced-budget proposal, certified by the Congressional Budget Office, on the table before appropriations bills can be made permanent for 1996.
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss, who was in Tupelo Friday speaking to the Kiwanis Club, said the move, one which he supports, came after concern the government might not reopen for some time.
"This puts more pressure on the president to reach an agreement," Cochran said before speaking to Kiwanis members. "No one was gaining any points by continuing with the shutdown."
Going back, for now
Wissinger said he and the other federal employees at the Natchez Trace Parkway are ready to return to work.
"I can't tell you the number of people who are anxious to get back to work," he said.
Because of the shutdown, there have been only four workers to maintain the 445 miles of the national park that runs through Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Problems with trash along the Trace, especially near exits, were beginning to appear.
To help with the trash problem, a group of volunteers had agreed to meet today at 9:30 a.m. at the Trace headquarters parking lot to carry out a cleanup of areas surrounding the center. That cleanup will still take place today as planned, despite the government start-up and bad weather, Wissinger said.
Other federal agencies, which were beginning to feel the pinch of the furlough, can also breathe a sigh of relief for now. In Mississippi, a federally subsidized meals program has enough money left to continue through the end of January and possibly into the first of February, thanks to a surplus from the 1995 fiscal year, said Eddie Washington, director of the state Department of Aging and Adult Services.
The meals program serves about 830 clients at centers throughout the Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which takes in eight counties in Northeast Mississippi. In addition, about 1,000 homebound clients receive the meals.
Federal courts were also beginning to feel the pinch. Most are operating on reserve funds since the Justice Department's appropriation has not been passed even though most court personnel are deemed essential.