By Julian Hattem - 10/19/13 03:57 PM EDT
States that paid to reopen national parks during the government shutdown shouldn’t plan to be repaid by Congress, at least not yet. Unless lawmakers pass a bill to explicitly reimburse states for the money they spent to let the public reenter parks, the National Park Service is treating those funds as donations.
"The funds were donated and we can only reimburse the states if Congress expressly directs us to do so through legislation,” Mike Litterst, the agency’s chief spokesman, said in a statement to The Hill on Saturday.
Closed national parks and memorials became an early point of contention in the government shutdown. Some Republicans have claimed that the Obama administration was purposefully keeping people out of parks and wild lands, including those that seem to be just empty spaces, to make the shutdown seem as difficult as possible.
The Interior Department announced on Oct. 10, midway through the shutdown, that national parks could be reopened as long as states paid to bring furloughed National Park Service personnel back to work.
Some Western states have taken the administration up on the offer, opening the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Those actions cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Days after the Obama administration’s announcement, more than a dozen House lawmakers proposed a bill to require the government to pay states back for the costs of running the parks. The House has yet to act on the legislation.