The Real Effects of the Government Shutdown

Lisa Ryan

On Saturday, the partial federal government shutdown officially became the longest in United States history. The current iteration started on December 22, 2018, and as of Thursday, has been going on for 27 days. Prior to this, the record-holder was a 21 day standoff during the Clinton administration.

Before we go on, in case, perhaps, you haven’t had access to the internet or TV at any point during the past 24 days and are asking yourself, “Wait, why is the government shut down in the United States?,” the gist of it is: Donald Trump, border wall, political theater. The Trump administration is essentially holding the government hostage until the president gets what he wants, and negotiations don’t seem to be going anywhere.

As he does, the president has been relying on lies and hateful rhetoric about immigration to justify his actions; meanwhile, the shutdown has directly impacted many people across America. From slashed services to lost income, here are some of the effects the ongoing government shutdown has had so far — and more that’s at risk.

• An estimated 800,000 federal government employees have not been paid during the shutdown. The New York Times reports that the typical government worker has gone without $5,000 in pay so far. (Meanwhile, this week Trump recalled 46,000 furloughed staffers to work without pay).

• The Office of Personnel Management suggested in late December that employees who aren’t being paid barter for their rent.

•Some affected employees have protested the shutdown.

• Many Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers have been calling in sick in response to not being paid for their work.

• The Federal Bureau of Prisons has furloughed upward of half of its 36,000-person staff — and is currently operating without funding.

• The U.S. Coast Guard sent a five-page tip sheet to furloughed employees suggesting they host garage sales, babysit, dog-walk, tutor, or work as mystery shoppers while they are not getting paid. “Bankruptcy is a last option,” the sheet reads.

Federal employees are sharing personal stories of the toll the shutdown has taken on them. A Department of Interior employee with Type 1 diabetes told NBC News that she has had to ration her insulin because she can’t afford the co-pay, and is looking for other ways to cover her bills. A Customs and Border Protection employee told the Detroit Free Press that he’s now having to decide between buying diapers and formula for his baby or paying his mortgage. Tales like these are becoming increasingly common, and more can be found through the Twitter hashtag #ShutdownStories.

• Some government workers who haven’t been receiving pay have turned to food banks across the country for assistance, including TSA employees and Coast Guard families.

• The U.S. National Parks Service has been affected by the shutdown. As a result, the parks are currently dealing with some of the following problems: trash everywhere, piles of human poop, vandalism (including trees getting cut down at Joshua Tree National Park), and what otherwise sounds like sheer anarchy.

• This — at least the trash part — is even affecting federal parks in densely populated areas, including the national monuments in Washington.

• Federal immigration courts have been affected by the shutdown. The result has been the postponement of immigration hearings for thousands of people, including those seeking asylum who may now have to wait years for new hearings.

• Hearings for people not currently detained by the government have been cancelled; however, The New Yorker reports that some cases for those in detention have gone on as scheduled. The result has been chaos; one attorney told the magazine that she has no idea where one of her cases was transferred; in another case, involving a 1-year-old, she arrived at court only to be told the hearing had been canceled.

• The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had to suspend nearly all of its food inspectors — meaning the agency has not been able to inspect food as vigorously as usual. That means food safety has been affected.

• Around 5,000 FBI staffers have been furloughed, and agents warned the Atlantic that national security is at risk without their work.

• Beyond that, since Washington’s local courts are funded by the federal government, residents of D.C. have not been able to procure marriage licenses during the shutdown, per BuzzFeed News. Luckily, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation so couples can still get licenses.

Victims of identity theft have not been able to notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has suspended its main online portals for identity theft and fraud claims, per BuzzFeed News.

• The Interior Department stopped taking new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests during the shutdown.

• The Department of Housing and Urban Development has had to send a letter to 1,500 landlords whose tenants receive financial assistance, asking them not to evict the affected residents. HUD’s funding ran out on January 1, and according to the Washington Post, its officials did not realize that before the shutdown, so the agency did not finalize its funding beforehand.

• Airports are being affected by the shutdown. Over the weekend, terminals in Houston and Miami airports were closed as a result. It has also been reported that a passenger in Atlanta was able to get a firearm through a TSA security checkpoint earlier this month.

• The U.S. Geological Survey is currently unable to fully update real-time earthquake and water data, due to a lapse in funding (as stated in a disclaimer on its website). Meanwhile, two earthquakes have been reported in the same region of California this week.

• Some schools have been affected, including those in a North Carolina school district that are having to scale back their school lunches to conserve food and funding.

Politico reports that survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, and other crimes could be affected, as shelters, agencies, and nonprofits brace for federal funds to run out by January 18.

• The Trump administration has said that despite the shutdown, tax refunds will still go out. But with only about 12 percent of the staff of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) working during the shutdown, there’s doubt those refunds will go out on time.

This post has been updated, and we will continue to update this post as we become aware of more effects.

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