As the federal government shutdown officially became the longest in U.S. History on Saturday, there have been some who say “Really, what does government do? Do we really need it?”
Contrary to the disparaging, anti-government stance that one particular major political party might have you believe (and Libertarians who appear to rail against ‘big government’ on principal), our “government” is a pretty good thing. Which is why it’s been the envy of the world practically since we became a nation.
Here are a few of the services that we may take for granted, handled by the more than 800,000 workers (staff and contract workers) of the nine cabinet-level departments of the United States Government who have been impacted by this shutdown:
Our Coast Guard guards our coastlines, and surely is at the forefront of our border security. They are not being paid, but must report to work. Official messaging to them from management/AKA The White House has suggested that their families can hold garage sales and baby sit to make up for no pay checks.
The Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA) is furloughed. So what do families devastated in recent devastating emergencies – fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, mudslides – do as they try to rebuild their lives? President Donald Trump may reside in a reality star time warp, but recovering from a disaster takes time. FEMA workers have only recently wrapped up helping families impacted in the 2013 Colorado floods.
Good luck to those of you who need to renew your passport or order one for that spring break trip. The State Dept. which processes the applications (taken in by the United States Post Office which has private funding, long term investments and is not shut down) is furloughed. Hopefully Russia won’t invade another country right now, because the skeleton staff at State isn’t being paid to be there.
National weather forecasts are built by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA and most staff is furloughed in the federal government shutdown. That means less reliable weather model forecasts as we face massive winter storms and begin preparations for the next hurricane season.
The Small Business Administration, federal loan programs, and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture are shuttered – so good luck closing on that house you just bought, that federal home loan you were in the midst of getting, that business loan or farm loan payment you were expecting.
The American Farm Bureau is shut down. Farmers who have suffered under the tariffs Trump enacted with China, are in a bind. On top of 20 percent soybean price drops as a result of the tariffs, farmers across the Midwest are being told their Farm Federal Aid checks (making up for the loss of sales to China) are on hold. It’s a double hit. Farmer are used to dealing with weather, but they have to plant in few months. How can they plan and what money do they use to buy seed?
The federal justice system will run out of money at the end of the month; impacting not just our courts, but the nation’s security functions including security clearances and cyber security. The professional organization representing the country’s FBI agents warning that “the current lapse in funds is unsustainable and could ultimately compromise national security.”
Most food inspections have ceased in the federal government shutdown. As if the U.S. hasn’t just had a “no romaine” holiday season, now we may have a “Do I dare to buy that food?” dilemma deciding whether to buy things like seafood, soft cheeses and produce.
Affordable housing programs for the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, which assists poor families with low income housing, are shut down. Wednesday 1,000 affordable housing project contracts lapsed, with another 550 lapsing in January and nearly that many lapsing in February. Where do those families go?
“It’s a mess,” said Ellen Lurie Hoffman, federal policy director for the National Housing Trust, an advocacy group for affordable housing that owns Section 8 properties. She said that Housing and Urban Development HUD had previously assured her organization that the contracts for December and those going into January would be renewed. “The pain is coming a lot earlier than we thought.”
Federal corrections officers already work in high-stress jobs and have been ordered to show up for work, without pay. Ask yourself, how long would you do that job without pay.
The federal funding affected by the shutdown is for the portions of the budget that must be approved annually not already approved for this fiscal year. Social Security and Medicare are long term programs with invested funds and will continue. (If those were affected, we might have a full-scale revolution on our hands, but then again, this might already be over). While the official word is that veteran’s disability payments are protected, some disabled veterans in Denver have been told they probably won’t get their disability checks.
How safe do you feel if you have to fly next week? The safety of those who have to catch a plane anywhere in this country could be at risk as air traffic controllers covering extremely high stress roles, and TSA agents, are ordered to show up at work without pay. Sick-outs are beginning and airports like Miami International are beginning to shut down entire concourses because they can’t staff them. Other questions remain. Are air marshals flying?
The National Transportation and Safety Board has ceased inspection of air, rail, and road accidents. Hopefully there won’t be a plane or rail crash.
Most staff of the Occupational Health and Safety Division of The Centers for Disease Control were furloughed in the 13-day 2013 government shutdown. No updates have been done to the CDC website, so whether this is the case this time, or if other critical work is being done is in question. There is anecdotal evidence of parents posting on social media indicate that life-saving drug therapies for critically ill children are not proceeding.
Funds have been found to extend the Federal Food Stamp program for low-income families to early February, but WIC – the nutrition program for infants and pregnant women is in danger. It provides things like formula, milk, and fresh vegetables to ensure health starts for children in poor families. WIC operates on a monthly voucher system and with the furloughs, there is no funding and no staff to issue vouchers.
These and myriad other important functions are attended to by federal public servants who serve proudly, and most often quietly. There is dignity in work; no matter if you dig ditches, process vouchers, inspect our food, guard our borders and our airways, or clean up our national lands and parks. The American people need what our federal workers do. They have a right to be paid.
But the constant drum beat disparaging “government” appears to have taken a toll. According to the Pew Research Institute, Americans have become increasingly cynical. In 1958 77 percent of Americans trusted their government. By 2015, that percentage had dropped to 19 percent. Not that our expectations of what we expect our government to do have decreased; according to Pew, if anything we expect more than ever from a government we want, and need, to function.
We expect our government to keep us safe, respond to disasters, manage the environment, ensure safe food and medicine, maintain our infrastructure, insure a basic income for retirees, oversee access to higher education, set workplace standards, support our business hopes and dreams and help people get out of poverty. In short – we expect everything the people who didn’t get a paycheck yesterday — do.
Readers can refer to Friday’s article on the local effects of the shutdown (https://arkvalleyvoice.com/government-shutdown-some-local-effects-for-many-its-business-as-usual/ ) or to the Ark Valley Voice “Our Voice” on this topic, (https://arkvalleyvoice.com/day-21-no-paychecks-no-way-to-run-a-country/ ).