Powering Down: Government Shutdown

Powering Down: Government Shutdown

Photo Illustration by Samantha Ko

For over 30 days, Tailor Gutierrez, a contact representative for the International Revenue Service, worked without pay, struggling to support herself financially without her daily income.

Gutierrez had no way to get money she needed for her basic necessities, and since her job is labeled as “non-pay essential,” she was unable to file for unemployment and get financial help.

If Gutierrez stopped showing up for work in order to find alternative forms of paid employment, she would be fired, she said.

“I can no longer afford to pay my bills, so I have to ask for forgiveness from my bank and landlord,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t eat the type of food I normally do. My food intake is rather limited as well. I’m eating noodles, rice products, cereal and TV dinners because I cannot afford fresh food without my income.”

As the government shutdown reached over a month in length, making it the longest shutdown in the country’s history, many federal employees were financially unstable.

The shutdown began on Dec. 22, 2018 over funding for a southern border wall, the government has temporarily reopened the government for the next three weeks Jan. 25, according to the New York Times. During the shutdown, all government entities that are labeled “non-essential” were closed leaving over 800,000 employees without pay.

One of the entities that was on a “non-pay essential” status is the Coast Guards.

“Because the Coast Guard isn’t in the [United States] Department of Defense, they don’t receive pay during this time, which has been detrimental to the men and women who protect and rescue on our coasts,” Cadet Corps leader Jacob Lapin ’19 said.

Another entity that was affected is the Transportation Security Administration. Employees have been deemed “non-pay essential,” and while they were required to keep working, the majority were not getting paid, according to Fox News. Over 10 percent of TSA employees called in “sick” due to financial limitations, according to CNN.

Tens of thousands of federal employees, who are dealing with similar difficulties as TSA agents and Coast Guards, filed for unemployment to receive jobless benefits, according to the New York Times. The furloughed employees, who were deemed unessential and are not working or being paid, were able to file for these benefits. Workers like Gutierrez, who are still working, were unable to receive the supplementary benefits that come with filing for unemployment.

Ann Marie Pugh, an information technology specialist for the International Revenue Service had been on furlough for over a month after being a dedicated employee for over 16 years. Pugh was supposed to begin a new position at the same time the shutdown started and is unsure what the future holds for her position, she said.

“The shutdown is affecting me financially especially because both me and my husband are federal employees,” Pugh said. “I’m not the only one in this position, and there are families all across the country going through undue hardship.”

Since its start, billions of dollars had not been paid toward the salaries of federal employees as well as hundreds of thousands of government contractors and their parent companies, according to Forbes. The continuation of the shutdown could have created long term economic problems, Math Department Head and economics teacher Kent Nealis said.

“Small businesses that are heavily dependent on government contracts and small businesses that depend upon the consumption expenditures of furloughed government workers may close and not be able, for financial reasons, to reopen,” Nealis said. “The employees of these failed firms will now be without jobs.”

Government shutdowns have had significant deficits on the economy before. The 1995 shutdown under the Clinton administration, which only lasted 26 days, cost the government over $2.1 billion, according to ABC News. The current shutdown is estimated to cost even more, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

It is not just federal employees who were affected by the shutdown. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not have enough employees working to continue all of their necessary regulations, according to CNN. Not only were government services shut down, but many federal buildings were as well.

“My family and I flew into Washington D.C. but had to leave early because we thought it was a health risk,” Alex Poe ’20 said. “There was no one to pick up trash on the National Mall because of the shutdown, and I saw the pile up of trash in front of the capital over the three days I was there. Also, all the Smithsonian museums and government funded attractions such as zoos were shut down.”

Trump made a public address, Jan. 19 proposing $5.7 billion in funding for the border wall for three-year temporary protection for children who were previously protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and people from nations who qualify for Temporary Protected Status, according to the Washington Post. The offer was rejected by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, causing no progress on a deal to end the shutdown, according to CNN.

Trump announced an agreement Jan. 25 to reopen the government for a three week period in order to pay federal employees while still working on a solution to the border wall controversy, according to the New York Times.
“I’m happy that we are open and going to be back paid for the time we have been shut down and worked for free,” Guitierrez said. “But, I don’t know if we will be open after the continuing resolution ends and that could put me in the exact same financial situation.”

There has been controversy surrounding Trump’s proposed border wall since its first introduction in his 2016 presidential campaign, according to the New York Times. Trump has promised an emergency declaration of the border wall if the shutdown ends without an agreed upon funding plan, according to Vox.

In order to cover the historic event, the AP United States Government and Politics classes addressed the shutdown and issues that it presented in class.
“Every day in class, we [made] predictions as to when it [was] going to end and why,” Griffin Gunn-Meyers ’19 said, “There was [an occasion] where we didn’t have quizzes because the government is acting in a way that it has never acted before and was not covered in our textbooks.”

The government shutdown created potential threats to students and the country as a whole. Its continuation added billions of dollars to the country’s debt, according to the New York Times.

“Business investment decisions, which ultimately affect the rate at which our economy grows, [were] put on hold due to the growing uncertainty about the economic outlook,” Nealis said. “This uncertainty can turn to pessimism and lead to an overall loss of confidence in our economy by consumers and businesses. This loss of confidence directly affects consumer spending and can lead to an economic downturn that would have much more significant economic consequences.”

Despite all of the potential economic problems, the biggest issue that the shutdown presented was still the thousands of workers that have no income, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“This is now affecting more than just the workers,” Gutierrez said. “This is affecting mothers and fathers. Food stamps are changing. [The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children] is changing and our aviation security is running dry. We are in a national crisis and the people up top that are still getting paid don’t see what an issue they have caused.”

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