The shutdown matters: News from Capitol Hill, effects on Americans


Art by Sammie Seamon.

President Donald Trump and Democratic legislators are at a stand-off in allowing Congress to allocate President Trump 5.7 million dollars to build a wall at the US-Mexico border. This is the cause of the longest government shutdown in US history, affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

About 380,000 federal workers are currently furloughed without pay, while another 420,000 are working without pay. These include Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at airports, the National Coast Guard, Border Patrol officers, National Zookeepers, Secret Service agents, federal prison workers, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employees, and national park employees. Congress has recently passed legislation that promises payback to these employees, but this guarantee doesn’t include contracted government workers under independent federal employers (TSA employees are not under private contract except at the San Francisco (SFO) airport).

This includes non-profit employers like those in AbilityOne who offer federal jobs to “the blind or other severely disabled persons,” including those with mental health issues; some of these employees can no longer afford their essential medications. There have already been several lawsuits pressed against the administration by federal employees trying to get through now five weeks without much needed pay.

Among the 800,000 individuals currently undergoing over a month with reduced or no pay, their families are also suffering the consequences of the drawn-out political battle; many are having trouble affording their rent and food and getting medical care. Many of these families are now dependent on food stamps and pantries. Food banks in Central Texas are now servings hundreds of more clients than before the shutdown. For more information about your family’s food stamp benefits during the shutdown, click here.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently commented that Trump and Republican lawmakers must stop “using workers as hostages” in order to get the border wall, reopen all agencies unrelated to the border, and talk out partisan issues from there. However, both Republicans and Democrats refuse to budge on the issue, with the Democrats not even showing up to a bipartisan luncheon at the White House on Tuesday.

President Trump, undergoing the 27th day of shutdown on January 17, is under increasing pressure from his top advisors to find an alternate way out of the shutdown rather than taking nothing less than total acceptance of his wall plan. President Trump’s advisors are hopeful that his State of the Union address on January 29 will allow him to win Democrats over to his ideas.

However, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-NY), who holds the final say on the date of the address, has threatened to postpone or cancel the address in light of the shutdown, using her position to bring President Trump even closer to the heat and cease the shutdown. On January 17, he fired back, using his position to postpone her congressional delegations trip to Egypt, Afghanistan, and Brussels.

President Trump has also recently suggested that some rights be returned to “Dreamers” (those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) in exchange for the 5.7 billion, but Pelosi instantly rejected it. Trump has been prolifically tweeting in the past few weeks, attempting to shift the blame onto the “stubborn Democrats” and Nancy Pelosi who refuse to give in to his wall plan.

The U.S. economy has suffered large losses that may never be fully recuperated; the airline and housing industries have lost several millions of dollars as consumers are more wary to buy while the government is in disarray and the economy is more at risk. Delta Airlines has reported losing $25 million in January due to the drastic drop in customers.

The closing of the Department of Agriculture in particular has turned some of President Trump’s loyal rural supporters against him, as the ongoing shutdown has caused large profit losses for farmers across the U.S. Farmers also have missed the January supply and demand list from the Department of Agriculture that helps with decisions on what to plant in the coming season.

Native Americans living on reservations supported by government programs such as the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are currently facing food shortages, lack of medical staff, and pay. Tribes such as the Chippewa in Michigan, the Navajo Nation, and the Shoshone-Bannock tribe have made contingency plans and are encouraging frugality among their communities to try to stretch their resources until the shutdown finally ends. Many tribes cannot even travel to neighboring towns as the roads are no longer federally maintained, and are snowed in.

The shutdown, on January 25 being the 34th day, has affected around a million Americans and will only continue, unless President Trump decides to prioritize his country’s citizens over his own goal.

Update: On January 25, Congress passed a short term spending bill to reopen the government until February 15th. This deal does not include an agreement President Trump’s border wall. President Trump states that negotiations over border security will still ensue in the coming weeks.