Impact on US Government Widens on 18th Day of Shutdown
09 January 2019, 03:37
A shutdown of about a quarter of the U.S. government reached its 18th day on Tuesday, with lawmakers and the White House divided over Republican President Donald Trump’s demand for money for a border wall ahead of his prime-time address to push the project, VOA news reports.
The shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, is the 19th since the mid-1970s, although most have been brief. This one now ranks as the second-longest, with Trump saying it could continue for months or years, even as he said he hoped it was resolved within days.
Republicans to End Shutdown
Border security negotiations last weekend between Vice President Mike Pence and congressional staff yielded no progress on a deal as Democrats continued to object to the wall.
The current shutdown has not affected three-quarters of the government, including the Department of Defense and the Postal Service, which have secure funding. But 800,000 employees from the departments of Homeland Security and Transportation, among others, have been furloughed or are working without pay.
Private contractors working for many government agencies are also without pay and private companies that rely on business from federal workers or other consumers — such as national park visitors — are affected across the country.
Here is what is happening around the federal government.
Internal Revenue Service
Nearly 70,000 IRS employees, or about 88 percent of the workforce, have been furloughed, raising concerns about American taxpayer filings and refunds and the ability of the agency to manage government revenues ahead of the April 15 income tax filing deadline.
The acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought, has said tax refunds would be distributed despite the shutdown.
The department that oversees Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service is affected.
Of 245,000 agency employees, nearly 213,000 have been deemed “essential,” according to the department’s contingency plan, so they are working without pay until a funding bill is passed.
More than 50,000 TSA officers are working without pay, but Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about some transportation employees failing to show up for work or calling in sick.
The TSA said on Tuesday the absences were having “minimal impact.” The agency said 4.6 percent of screeners did not show up for work on Monday, compared with 3.8 percent on the same day last year.
Housing and Urban Development
Most of this department’s 7,500 employees are “non-essential” and only about 340 are working. Nearly 1,000 others may be called in for specific tasks, without pay.
The shutdown has left administration officials scrambling to prevent the eviction of thousands of people covered by a HUD program that expired on Jan. 1 and now cannot be renewed, according to the Washington Post.
Public housing authorities and Native American tribal housing entities are not part of the federal government and so are not required to shut down. But the federal government provides some of their funding, so some have reduced services or changed operating hours.
HUD, which oversees some housing loan and low-income housing payment programs, warned in its contingency plan that “a protracted shutdown could see a decline in home sales, reversing the trend toward a strengthening market.”
The National Park Service, under the umbrella of the Interior Department, is operating with a skeleton staff. Under its contingency plan, some parks may be accessible, with others closed completely.
The park service is providing no visitor services such as restrooms, facility and road maintenance and trash collection. Some volunteers have worked to clean up sites, according to media reports, and some states and other localities have also pitched in funding to keep parks operating.
Campgrounds have begun closing because of sanitation issues. The parks are losing about $400,000 a day in fees because no rangers are staffing the entrances, according to Senate appropriators.
The park service has authorized using previously collected entrance fees to bring in additional staff to clean up trash and other tasks in a move some critics have said is illegal, the Washington Post reported.
At least two people have died at two national parks since the shutdown, according to the Post.
The Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo in Washington, which receive U.S. government funding, are also closed.
The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau are not publishing economic data, including figures on gross domestic product, inflation, personal income, spending, trade and new home sales, during the shutdown.
Office of Personnel Management
The agency that oversees the federal workforce has given advice to workers on dealing with landlords, mortgage lenders and other creditors, including sample letters explaining severe income loss because of the lack of federal funding. Some federal workers are applying for unemployment benefits, according to media reports.
The U.S. court system said on Monday it could operate until Jan. 18 and that most proceedings would continue as scheduled.
Cases involving furloughed lawyers from the executive branch of government may be delayed. After funds are exhausted, courts may operate as necessary, but it would be up to each court to set staffing, the system said in a statement.
The shutdown over the border wall is also straining the country’s immigration system and has been blamed for worsening backlogs in courts. Immigration judges are among those furloughed, leading to thousands of long-delayed deportation cases being rescheduled.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are partially affected by the shutdown.
Some food and drug inspections are on hold, but the FDA says it is still able to respond to emergencies, such as foodborne illness outbreaks. The Indian Health Service is not able to provide most of its funds to tribes and Urban Indian Health programs. Some scientific research projects also cannot continue in full.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Tuesday that U.S. farmers could have more time to apply for aid aimed at mitigating any harm during ongoing trade disputes with China, among others, adding that farmers who had already applied would continue to receive payments.
USDA has also delayed several key reports on major domestic and world crops that were due to be released on Jan. 11.
Funding for food aid for low-income Americans, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, is expected to run out at the end of January and could lapse next month unless a deal is reached, according to media reports.
Federal Communications Commission
The FCC, which regulates radio and television broadcast and cable systems, has suspended most operations. Work for “the protection of life and property” will continue as will operations at the agency’s Office of Inspector General, the FCC’s internal watchdog.
Of its 55,000 employees, 20,400 have been put on leave. That excludes most of the Federal Aviation Administration, where 24,200 are working and the Federal Highway Administration, where all 2,700 employees are funded through other sources. Air traffic control, hazardous material safety inspections and accident investigations continue, but some rule-making, inspections and audits have been paused.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has furloughed nearly 60 percent of its staff, halting auto safety investigations and new vehicle recall notices. The agency said it would recall furloughed employees if it “becomes aware of an imminent threat to the safety of human life.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has limited its safety operations to critical staff “whose job is to perform urgent continued operational activity to protect life and property.”
Executive Office of the President
An estimated 1,100 of the office’s 1,800 employees are on leave. That includes most of the Office of Management and Budget, which helps implement budget and policy goals.
Most employees at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are on furlough. The small percentage who remain — most deemed essential to “prevent imminent threats to human life or the protection of property” — are working without pay. Work on any satellite mission that has not yet launched will be suspended until the agency receives funding, according to its contingency plan.
Individuals trying to finance home purchases through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are experiencing significant delays in loans being processed and approved, as are those applying to refinance an FHA-insured mortgage, according to Senate appropriators.