The Government is Back Open … for Now

Another shutdown will hurt those who can deal with it the least

by Jack Archambault


This is not the article I thought I would be writing. After all, the federal government had been shut down for over a month, and a resolution seemed more distant than a stepfather in a 90s movie. President Trump was not budging. Democrats were not budging. And Mitch McConnell was making good on his tortoise sobriquet, and not budging. Then, on Friday afternoon, a breakthrough.

Trump said he would reopen the government for three weeks, paying 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown, and receiving none of the $5 billion he asked Congress for to build a wall on the southern border. If Republicans and Democrats cannot come to an agreement on wall funding, Trump says he will either shut down the government again or declare a national emergency.

This is a welcome development, but beyond the obvious good news – workers receiving pay, resumption of federal government activities – this development solves little. Before I get to why, let’s take a look at how we got here.

December 11: In a meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, President Trump says he would be “proud” to shut down the government if Democrats did not provide $5 billion in funding for a wall on the southern border.

December 19-22: Trump refuses to sign Senate-passed, short-term spending bill that would keep the government open through the first week of February. The House, which at this time is Republican-controlled, adds $5 billion in funding for a wall and sends the bill back to the Senate. The Senate fails to gather enough support for the revised bill, and the shutdown begins on December 22.

Some 420,000 government employees, including TSA and air traffic controllers, are deemed “essential” and are ordered to work during the shutdown.

January 2-4: After taking control of the House, Democrats pass a spending package that would allocate $1.3 billion for border security and reopen the government. Saying that he is prepared to keep the government shut down for “months or even years”, Trump refuses to sign the bill.

The Smithsonian museums and National Zoo close due to the shutdown.

January 10: In a visit to McAllen, Texas, Trump threatens to declare a state of emergency to build the wall.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell says he refuses to bring forth any legislation that Trump will not sign.

January 11: Roughly 800,000 federal employees miss their first paycheck.

January 12: Over 25,000 federal employees have filed for unemployment.

January 16: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi calls for Trump to delay the January 29 State of the Union Address until after the government reopens.

Trump also signs a Congressional bill guaranteeing backpay to federal employees.

January 19: Democrats reject Trump’s offer to temporarily extend protection for young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children in exchange for $5.7 billion in funding for the wall. Chuck Schumer says the proposal is “not a compromise but more hostage taking.”

January 20: A record 10 percent of TSA employees do not show up to work, many citing financial limitations as causing them to miss work.

January 24: Trump announces he will delay the State of the Union address until after the government reopens.

The Senate holds votes on two plans to reopen the government. The first is Trump’s previously mentioned plan, the second is a House-passed bill that would reopen 25 percent of the government through February 8. Both fail.

January 25: Trump announces government will reopen until February 15. If no agreement is made on wall funding, he could shut down government again or declare national emergency.

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For the sake of argument, let’s say no agreement is reached. What then? For millions of Americans – whether they be federal employees or anyone reliant on essential government services to survive – the shutdown made daily life uncertain. Many Bronx and New York residents are among those affected disproportionately. If there is no resolution in three weeks, New Yorkers will be affected in three major ways:

1) Federal employees missing paychecks. The New York State Department of Labor says that as of January 10, 1,382 federal workers had applied for unemployment benefits in New York.

Gabriel Pedreira manages the northeast district of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union representing federal employees. In speaking to Metro New York, he described the workers he meets as “nervous and scared”, and “worried that they won’t be able to pay even basic things like their children’s lunch money.”

Pedreira also estimates that there are 4,000 TSA agents in the New York area who are members of AFGE. Their average salary? $35,000 a year. In other words, every paycheck matters. A lot.

But TSA agents were not the only ones working without pay. In New York, federal prison guards, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) employees were in the same situation.

2) Expiring Section 8 contracts. Essentially, Section 8 allows landlords to charge market rates for their properties. Low-income tenants pay 30 percent of their income, and HUD pays for the rest.

According to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), nearly 40,000 New York City households were supported by Section 8 as of December, with 33 percent of them in the Bronx. The problem is, 1,150 Section 8 contracts expired between December and January, with 500 more set to expire in February. While this did not have catastrophic implications, a resumption of the shutdown could cause landlords to run out of funds and lose the ability to maintain their properties. In a worst-case scenario, landlords could be forced to require tenants to pay full rent themselves or face eviction.

3) Families could stop receiving food stamps. While food stamps will still be sent out for January and February, USDA officials have not committed to sending out stamps if the shutdown resumes and continues into March.

If no resolution is reached, and if Trump is serious about again shutting down the government for “months or even years”, that would be devastating to the thousands of New Yorkers and Americans who rely on the federal government to make a living, feed their families, and have a roof over their head.

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