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Government shutdown impacts North Shore in many ways

During the partial government shutdown, many federal offices are closed - Photo courtesy of Russell Davies, Flickr.com
During the partial government shutdown, many federal offices are closed - Photo courtesy of Russell Davies, Flickr.com

The current partial government shutdown has slipped into the record books as the longest ever. On January 15, the federal government entered Day 25 of the standoff between President Donald Trump and legislators over immigration and a wall on the southern border.
 
Nine of the 15 Cabinet-level departments have not been funded.
 
The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the government's largest agencies, are the most notable exceptions and continue to operate since they were funded through Sept. 30.
 
The previous record for the longest shutdown occurred during President Bill Clinton's presidency. That one lasted from December 15, 1995, through January 6, 1996.
 
The current shutdown appears destined to last at least a few more days, with Democratic lawmakers rejecting President Donald Trump's demands to include $5.7 billion for a border wall in a spending bill.

The shutdown has furloughed 380,000 federal workers and forced an additional 420,000 to work without pay.

WTIP Community Radio has reached out to a number of people in the community to learn how the shutdown is impacting them. Unfortunately, most government employees are hesitant to speak out.

Even when government is functioning full-speed, there are public information specialists that communicate for employees. They are not available during this shutdown, leaving the public—and the employees in limbo.

WTIP is aware of many community members who are awaiting government assistance. Forest users who work with the U.S. Forest Service have seen trail planning projects halted.

Vegetative management planning is on hold. A January 19 ski tour of Gunflint Pines to inform the public of timber work proposed in that area will likely be cancelled.

Dealings with the U.S. Coast Guard are pending, such as relicensing for local boat captains.

The Department of State does not have full staff to process passports, so while citizens can request a passport, it will likely take much longer for it to be completed.

National Parks, like Grand Portage National Monument are shuttered and the wolf study taking place at Isle Royale National Park has been halted.

The Department of Agriculture, which oversees the SNAP program, commonly referred to as “food stamps,” will make January distributions early and is unsure if funding will be available for future months.

Scientists collecting weather data have been stymied by the shutdown’s reduction of staff at the National Weather Service.

There are countless other ways the citizens of the North Shore are affected by the partial government shutdown, but none more so than government employees and their spouses.

We spoke to the spouse of a government staffer who agreed to answer our questions on the condition of anonymity. Some of the answers were changed slightly to protect the person’s identity.

WTIP asked how the family was informed that they were being “furloughed” and we were told that workers were aware of the possibility of a partial shutdown before Dec. 22.

However, the family was also aware that shutdowns had been averted in the past through a last-minute vote.

Our government spouse said, “Given our political climate and how funding nowadays is usually done through continuing resolutions and stopgap measures rather than standard appropriations, the threat of a government shutdown is ever-present.” 

There has been minimal communication to government employees and none of them know how long this will drag on. So, we asked a tough question--how are you doing financially?

The person we spoke with said, “Luckily, we’re doing fine—for now.”

This family is a dual-income household and has some savings so they feel they have a buffer.

The furloughed worker can apply for unemployment through the State of Minnesota, which could help fill the gaps, though it is typically about half normal pay.
 
Then if back pay is approved by Congress, all of that unemployment is paid back to the state.
 
Again, we were told, “Overall, we're very lucky. We are aware of colleagues who are struggling a lot more.
 
“Most Americans live something close to paycheck-to-paycheck, and that includes a lot of federal workers. Many federal contractors are much worse off, since they're not federal employees and are missing paychecks with little hope of back pay.”
 
Finally, WTIP asked, What would you say to the politicians involved in this standoff? 
 
The reply: “What I find dispiriting is when politicians and pundits speak about federal workers as if they're bureaucratic parasites or callously dismiss the economic hardships of being forced to go long periods without pay.
 
“The U.S. government employs more workers than any private company in the U.S., and these workers do critical work to keep people safe, provide crucial research, uphold our laws, and protect places that are important to all of us.
 
“A paycheck is important, but my spouse works for the government because my spouse cares deeply about the mission of the agency.
 
“I know my spouse’s coworkers—scientists, technicians, and officers alike—feel the same way. Politicians that drum up antagonism towards the average Federal worker are disingenuously attacking dedicated, everyday Americans and their families who do important work across our nation.”
 

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