Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are now into their third week of the government shutdown. It’s the longest in U.S. history. Last Friday came and went but instead of getting a normal paycheck, workers received direct deposit notices that carried zeros. And zero is all they will get until the shutdown comes to an end. They will all eventually get backpay, but when is the great unknown. What is known, however, is just how the concentricity of a shutdown impacts so many workers and facets of daily life.
Government workers, for example, who depend on daycare for young children are affected, none more than those whose children’s daycare is housed in a government building. There are also big-time contractors representing iconic brands like Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon. NASA and National Weather Service workers are off the job, too. Well down the food chain are low wage contract workers who serve the food, clean the offices in government buildings and tend to the grounds outside these buildings. Unlike federal workers who will get retroactive pay once the shutdown has ended, there’s no late pay for contractors---white or blue collar. There are also scores of businesses---restaurants, printing companies, plumbers and more---who depend on government workers and whose bottom line is aiming toward the bottom because of the shutdown.
But, for former Denver Mayor and cabinet member, Federico Peῆa, the shutdown goes well beyond delayed paychecks and interrupted services. “It’s absolutely unnecessary,” he said. “It’s all political. He (the President) feels the wall is something he has to deliver to his base.” Peῆa argues that the President has had two years to deliver a wall and has done nothing. Why is it such a priority today?
“The shutdown has created a national emergency of a different type,” he said. “I’m very concerned that the White House in in disarray and that our adversaries could do something very dangerous.”
Peῆa, who is no longer in government, believes the justification the President has used to halt government is nothing more than a ruse. “He’s distracted the nation by embarking on these kinds of theatrics,” said Peῆa. “He’s also nervous about the Mueller report. As a matter of national security, I’m very concerned.”
Until late last week, the nation’s WIC program---a nutrition program that provides healthcare and nutritional assistance for low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children under five---was in danger of running dry at month’s end. But states received assurance from the federal government that money to fund the program would be available through the end of February, said Michelle Pemberton, Interim Public Information Officer for Sterling’s Northeast Colorado Health Department. “Colorado has funding and resources and will continue as normal,” said Pemberton. The Northeast Colorado Health Department serves nearly 2,300 women and families in a six-county region.
In Fremont County, home of the Federal Penitentiary known as Supermax, workers remain on normal, though unpaid, work schedules. But until the President calls an end to the government shutdown, they will not be paid. Much of the prison’s workforce lives in nearby Florence and Caῆon City. “A lot of the federal employees who live and work in Florence are going through a difficult time,” said Florence City Manager Mike Patterson. “There is a lot of fear, a lot of anger at our national leaders,” adding, “they feel used.”
Florence, a town just over a hundred miles southwest of Denver, is heavily dependent on the normally, always-on-time federal pay checks. But not only are a lot of workers calling the city asking for waivers on late fees for some services but the city, itself, is at a loss for knowing when the government---the four federal prisons located nearby---will be paying its water bill. “We’re assuming the $150-$200 thousand water bill is not going to be paid,” at least, on time, said Patterson. The Mayor said the county’s federal prisons use almost half of the city’s water supply.
Patterson also raised another question that he and city administrators in similar situations must face. Despite not being paid, federal prison staff must still report for work. If they decide to simply quit and find other jobs, how, he wondered, can they be replaced. Prison human resources workers are not on the job to take new applications. Who would do the hiring? And who would take a job they know offers no immediate salary?
Nearby, Caῆon City City Administrator, Tony O’Rourke is wrestling with similar issues. A lot of prison employees live in his town. “If it (the shutdown) goes beyond a month, we’ll take a serious look,” at things, he said. “The most immediate impact is sales tax. We’re very dependent on it.”
The President has threatened to declare a national emergency to build the wall---steel, concrete, slats or something else---in one form or another. He believes he can get the approximately $5.7 billion dollars he needs to build it from various department budgets and has even suggested the military could do the construction. But whatever he decides, it’s almost certain his decision will end up in the courts fighting with environmentalists, land owners angry over eminent domain or in conflict with states deciding they have problems with his plans. One more thing; he’s also indicated that wall or no wall, he could even extend the government shutdown indefinitely.