Millions of Americans who have been asking what a partial federal shutdown means are now starting to find out.
Garbage piling up in the national parks is the least of it, though even that is no trivial matter. So far during 18 days of shutdown, at least seven people have died at national park sites, including a man who died in a fall at Yosemite. The hazards of filth build-up and illegal use of park grounds have led to closures at Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco and Joshua Tree National Park. The list will grow as the shutdown drags on.
The parks have been reported on more than other affected areas because they were among the first places to get hit. But the effects of the standoff will soon reach far beyond the beloved — but relatively remote — national parks.
Far more menacing than closed parks, some 38 million Americans could soon be deprived of food stamps and welfare assistance. Going hungry becomes a real possibility. In fact, it’s already happening. CNN posted a comment from one benefits recipient who wrote, “We’re struggling with the little to no food in our home since we didn’t receive our daily food stamps for the month.”
Staffing for the agency overseeing the federal food stamps program has been cut by 95 percent in the wake of the shutdown.
Emergency funding efforts by the states is a very temporary solution at best. As Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Governors Association, said, “For every day that [it] goes on, it becomes increasingly problematic for states. They are having to front money for federal programs. They can’t run deficits like the federal government. They’re on tight budgets, and it’s not like they have a lot of money lying around.”
For some people, the shutdown could mean eviction from their homes. The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent letters to 1,500 landlords on Friday in a last-minute effort to prevent the eviction of thousands of tenants. A HUD program expired on January 1, leaving them in the lurch.
The letters instruct the landlords to use their reserve accounts so that no one is evicted, HUD spokesman Jereon Brown told the Washington Post. He said the budget and contract staff are “scouring for money” to keep the contracts going on an interim basis.
And don’t think you have to be poor and dependent on the government to be hurt by the shutdown. Taxpayers looking forward to refunds want to file their taxes early. Russell Vought, acting director of the White House budget office, said Monday customary rules will be changed to make the refund payments possible. He told reporters that an “indefinite appropriation” was available for the refunds, which would go out as normal. But, although the IRS might recall a large number of furloughed employees to process returns — probably without pay — in accordance with its usual contingency plans, that will only add to the number of highly unhappy workers – who will hardly be motivated to process the returns in a timely manner. That, in turn, may delay the usually reliable boost to the economy that redounds from refunds recycled into the marketplace. From that everyone will suffer.
The first payless payday is breathing down the necks of 800,000 government workers. “No pay may be provided for excepted [essential] work during the December 23-January 5 pay period until the lapse in appropriations has ended,” the federal Office of Personnel Management said on its website.
These are all compelling reasons for Americans to begin applying intense pressure on federal lawmakers to sort out the crisis and get the country back to some semblance of normalcy.
The media coverage of the widening impact of the shutdown will surely help to concentrate the minds of both sides in the standoff, but people can also contact their elected representatives to make their feelings known.
Unfortunately, while garbage has been piling up in the national parks, blame has been piling up in Washington. As usual, solutions are in short supply, but blame isn’t.
The leaders in Washington have to sharpen their focus and think about solutions instead. The American people are becoming increasingly frustrated amid reports of stalled negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders. The mental wall between them has to come down and a settlement arrived at very soon.
Earlier this week, Mr. Trump scaled down his insistence on a concrete wall, suggesting a steel barrier instead. It didn’t satisfy the Democrats, but at least it was a step in the right direction.
Perhaps more significant, though, was the administration proposal for “an additional $800 million to address urgent humanitarian needs” at the border, as set forth in a letter from acting White House budget director Russell T. Vought to congressional leaders.
An administration official disclosed to the Washington Post the possibility of restoring some version of the Obama-era Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law that allowed children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to apply for refugee resettlement in the United States.
These are measures that the Democrats should be able to accept, albeit in a more far-reaching form than the administration would wish. But somewhere short of a total overhaul of immigration law and less than full budgeting of a border wall there should be room for agreement.
There has to be. The time for posturing and blaming at the expense of millions of Americans is over.