January 18, 2019
Tuesday marks one month date since the partial government shutdown began and each day that goes by the strain on the country increases, especially for the 800,000 federal employees who will miss their second paycheck this week.
To help pay the bills, some have resorted to part-time jobs or soliciting donations through crowdsourcing websites.
At airports across the country, passengers are facing sporadic crowding that could grow worse this week with the announcement Monday by the TSA that sickouts by security screeners had reached 10 percent, compared to 3.1 percent at the same time in 2018. The agency acknowledged that “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.”
In addition, some national parks and monuments are either closed or in bad shape because the trash isn't being picked up and bathrooms not cleaned.
President Donald Trump's own economists said last week that the impact of the shutdown on economic growth is twice as bad as originally projected. The Council of Economic Advisers now say that each week of the shutdown shaves 0.13 percentage points off of economic growth, mostly from the lost spending and investment by those federal employees not being paid.
Fairly soon, that could stall economic growth and begin a contraction.
Despite this grim outlook, many Americans have yet to feel much impact from the shutdown in part because the Trump administration has selectively recalled workers in various agencies to make sure that critical services continue.
Those efforts provide a pressure valve that may be relieving some public anger. But the political tension surrounding the shutdown has increased and turned it into a personal duel between Trump and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
This week the GOP-controlled Senate is expected to take up legislation that contains the proposal offered by Trump on Friday, which was quickly rejected by Democrats. It includes $5.7 billion for the wall along the southern border but also $12.7 billion in disaster funding and temporary protection for people brought into the country illegally by their parents, known as Dreamers. The Democratic-controlled House, meanwhile, is expected to take its own legislation to reopen government.
Elaine Kamarck, with the Brookings Institution, said the moves by the Trump administration are a sign they are planning for the shutdown to continue for a long time.
"They clearly want their cake and eat it too," said Kamarck, director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the institution who is also a member of the Democratic National Committee. "They want to play the shutdown game but they want to have the government operating."
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said efforts to mute the impact of the shutdown mask its broader meaning.
"This is far more about the crisis of governance that we are in the midst of," MacGuineas said. "Our government is crumbling. The ability of our leaders to lead the country during a really important time is called into question."
She acknowledges that the shutdown is causing suffering, especially for federal employees.
"But many of the points made to illustrate the impact of a federal shutdown are quite easily dismissed. If the worst thing we have is overflowing toilets in national parks, it’s not exactly a national crisis."
Who's most affected
Besides federal employees, those facing the greatest hardship – now and in the future – are those in need.
Every week hundreds of contracts between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and landlords renting to low-income families expire, leaving thousands in limbo. The landlords are left to either subsidize the rent with the hopes of being reimbursed when the shutdown ends or evicting people who may have nowhere else to live.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, has sent out its February payment early to the more than 40 million recipients nationwide asking that they not spend the money all at once because it may be the last they receive until the shutdown ends. Women, Infants, and Children benefits also are set to expire next month although some states say they can stretch theirs for another month or two.
Immigrants trying to renew a work permit or a driver's license or seek asylum face longer delays because already 63,000 hearings have been canceled because of the shutdown and the backlog in immigration courts has grown to 800,000 cases.
United for U.S. – a joint effort of the United Way network, nonprofits, corporations and organized labor – has been formed to assist furloughed federal workers and others who are struggling during the shutdown.
People can find out about services in their area by calling 2-1-1 or going to 211.org.
At the State Department and the National Park Service, agency officials have come up with some funding to pay workers, at least temporarily.
The park service is dipping into entrance fees to pay for staffing at some highly visited parks, prompting criticism from advocates who say the fees normally used for park projects are being misused.
The State Department announced last week it had found a way to pay for most employees to return at the start of a new pay period next week. Bill Todd, the agency's deputy undersecretary for management, did not say where the additional money was coming from and said that the recall would be reviewed after a week.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., criticized that move. "While I believe it is critically important that our diplomacy and development professionals get paid for their service to our nation, trying to hold a government together with duct tape and bailing wire is no way to govern," Menendez said.
Rep. T.J. Cox, a freshman Democrat from California, proposed in his first bill, introduced last week, that the Treasury Department be required to offer no-interest loans of up to $6,000 to federal workers not being paid.
Some things have not changed since the shutdown began Dec. 22 after President Trump – goaded by right-wing commentators to keep his promise about building a wall to protect the southern border – rejected a bipartisan budget deal he earlier had agreed to sign because it did not include funding for the wall. That left nine federal departments without funding.
People still are flying, despite long lines at some airports, and Social Security checks are being issued. So are Medicare benefits.
And the political theatrics continue, becoming more intense and personal as the shutdown drags on.
Early on, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the wall on the southern border "immoral" and Trump marched out of a White House meeting with Congressional leaders because he thought Democrats were refusing to negotiate.
Last week Pelosi told President Trump to delay his State of the Union address because security might be compromised. Trump countered by canceling Pelosi’s use of military aircraft for an overseas trip to meet allies and U.S. troops. Then on Friday the president further limited travel by Congress members by barring them from using government planes without prior written approval until the budget impasse is resolved.