The huge impact of America’s recent government shutdown
The recent partial government shutdown, which spanned from Dec 22, 2018-Jan 25, 2019, was officially the longest in U.S. history. During the standoff over Trump’s proposed plans for funding a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, many Americans were left without while others wondered what the shutdown would mean for the country. Even as he signed a measure to reopen the government, President Trump was clear that he’d have no problem launching a second shutdown in order to get funding for the proposed wall. These threats, alongside the 35-day shutdown itself, left many Americans anxious to learn exactly who and what the shutdown affected and could again.
800,000 federal employees were furloughed
Among those hit hardest by the shutdown were undoubtedly employees who work for the federal government. Though the President and Congress receive regular pay whether the government is shut down or not, the same can’t be said for hundreds of thousands of other government workers. Among the masses of workers who suddenly found themselves without a paycheck, a huge number were forced to keep showing up to work regardless. Why didn’t they simply refuse? Well, it turns out that going on strike is actually illegal for federal employees and could have resulted in the loss of their jobs when the government reopened.
The huge number of workers who found themselves furloughed ironically included approximately 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents. Though frequently heralded by Trump as American heroes, those who regularly work along the Southern U.S. border where forced to do so with no idea when they’d be compensated for their efforts.
Such conditions were also imposed on thousands of other federal employees, such as FBI employees, FFA workers, Forest service firefighters, and even forecasters for the National Weather Service. That said, Congress did pass legislation guaranteeing back pay for affected members of the federal workforce. Government contractors affected by the shutdown, however, may or may not be so lucky. Whether contracted workers will ultimately be paid depends on their employers.
In the meantime, Americans across the country chipped in to help federal employees who had to do without paychecks for over a month. One Alabama church donated $16,500 worth of handouts to those affected by the shutdown, many of whom worked at NASA’s nearby Marshall Space Flight Center.
Loss of Native American funding
Another group hit hard by the government shutdown where the nearly 2 million Native Americans who rely on federal funding. Tribes depending on the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the operation of health clinics and food pantries suddenly found themselves out of luck as the government ground to a halt. The Chippewa Tribe of Michigan reported losses of up to $100,000 a day during the government hiatus.
Concerns over tax returns
As the shutdown rolled on, many Americans grew concerned over how it would affect the annual tax refunds they’d come to depend on. The government attempted to ensure that tax returns would be processed in the same time frame as usual by retaining 46,000 IRS employees, though they could not issue them back pay until the shutdown ended. The official end of the shutdown in January 2019 put the fears of many Americans to rest, though some still wonder what would have happened had the shutdown lasted longer.
Though there’s no way to say for sure, many wondered if the 57.4% of IRS workers who remained during the shutdown would have been enough to handle the tax returns of Americans across the country. Additional concerns included the threat that eventually IRS employees would stop showing up to work, as several had already begun legal proceedings against the Trump administration.
Food safety issues
Routine food inspection was also disrupted as employees of the Food and Drug Administration found themselves furloughed during the shutdown. While some workers remained without pay to continue inspections of domestic meat and poultry, decreased staffing forced other corners to be cut. Inspections on foods such as fruits, vegetables, seafood, and other high-risk items were not able to be carried out.
TSA short staffing
Many airports found themselves short-staffed on TSA agents during the shutdown, as struggling agents began calling out sick for their shifts. New York’s JFK airport had as many as 150 TSA officers call out sick on a single day, in what some took as a form of organized protest. Union officials responded that the workers were quite possibly not showing up for shifts in order to look for other work until they could get a sense of when they’d be receiving another paycheck. AFGE, the Union which represents over 44,000 TSA employees, even filed a lawsuit against the government, citing that “work without pay is nothing short of inhumane.”
Parks and museums
While many federally run museums like The National Gallery of Art and all 19 Smithsonian museums where closed, national parks were left open for the first time during a government shutdown. Though urged by officials to close the parks out of concern for public safety, the Trump administration decided to keep the parks publically accessible. While the parks were flooded due to the chance for free entrance, some have raised questions about how visitor safety was affected with 80% of park personal furloughed.
Three accidental deaths were reported on National Park land during the shutdown, which although not necessarily unusual, raised questions about shutdown-related response times. The body of a young girl who fell from an overlook on Christmas Eve wasn’t able to be recovered until the next day due to the unavailability of a Public Safety helicopter. The announcement of an investigation into another man’s death at Yosemite National Park was delayed due to understaffing caused by the shutdown as well.
Negative immigration impact
The shutdown resulting from Trump’s push for a border wall ironically only made America’s backlog of immigration cases even worse. More than 300 immigration judges found themselves out of work during the shutdown, forcing a huge number of cases to be pushed to a further date. Though they will all be rescheduled, many of the immigrants affected won’t get the chance to appear before a judge again for years.