In United States politics, a government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass sufficient appropriation bills or continuing resolutions to fund federal government operations and agencies, or the President refuses to sign into law such bills or resolutions. When that happens, the government begins a “shutdown” of the affected activities involving the furlough of non-essential personnel and curtailment of agency activities and services. Essential employees are still required to work without pay until the government reopens, when they may then receive back pay. Shutdowns also occur at the state, territorial, and local levels of government.
What makes this government shutdown different than those in the past? Why should I care?
Trump isn’t the first president to use the federal budget to advance his agenda. During the Reagan administration there were a total of eight shutdowns lasting four days or less. Two government shutdowns occurred during the Clinton administration, lasting five and 21 days respectively. The government shut down for 16 days during Barack Obama’s presidency when Democrats and Republicans were at odds over the Affordable Care Act.
Three funding gaps have occurred since Donald Trump took office: a three-day shutdown in January 2018, an overnight funding gap in February 2018 that did not result in any workers being furloughed, and our current ongoing shutdown which began on December 22, 2018, over proposed funding for a US-Mexico border wall. It is the second longest shutdown in history.
The Trump administration is hoping to fulfill a campaign promise by demanding $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall. In a national White House address on January 8, Trump claimed that the border wall would stop immigrants from entering the country illegally (which does not apply to those seeking asylum as that is a legal process) and reduce drug trafficking and violent crimes while improving the economy. For a full recap of his address including fact checks, click here.
Before discussing the impact of the federal shutdown on government workers and services, it’s important to recognize how this anti-immigration rhetoric endangers the lives of the thousands of people who are seeking asylum at US borders. Not only does it make it difficult to have a productive conversation about how to address the refugee crisis, but it further villainizes an already vulnerable group of people.
More than 400,000 federal employees are working without receiving a paycheck, and hundreds of thousands more are furloughed from their departments, such as NASA and the Commerce Department.
A spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) told NBC News that 1,150 contracts with private landlords for Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) subsidies have expired so far during the ongoing shutdown. This means that some landlords are no longer receiving government assistance to subsidize rent from low-income recipients, including many elderly Americans. This could force some landlords to raise rents and ultimately evict tenants.
The Food and Drug Administration announced that it has suspended all routine domestic food facility inspections. The agency oversees most of the country’s food supply and conducts approximately 160 routine inspections per week. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the Washington Post that the administration is working to bring back enough employees to investigate high-risk facilities, such as those that deal with seafood and cheese.
A union president for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers said that some TSA agents have quit their jobs while others are threatening to leave over furloughed paychecks.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), one of the country’s largest unions representing federal workers, released a statement with their intention to sue the Trump administration over the government shutdown, claiming that it is illegal to require employees to work without pay.
According to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), 16,000 parks service employees have been furloughed since the shutdown began, leaving a small number active for policing and security. Before leaving office, former Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a policy document outlining how parks should operate during government shutdowns and other lapses in appropriations. Under Zinke’s direction, the department decided to keep national parks open during the shutdown, which led to an environmental crisis that could take years to rectify. The lack of park rangers and oversight has led to massive amounts of trash being left in the parks and overflowing pit toilets, both of which pose a risk to human and wildlife health. The Department of the Interior announced they would be dipping into funds collected from entrance fees to pay for trash clean up, restroom maintenance, and additional law enforcement. Three deaths have been reported in parks since the shutdown, and one injured man was carried to safety by strangers passing through.
How can I get involved?
Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to force the President’s hand. Democrats have remained firm in their resolution to not include the requested 5.7 billion in border wall funding in 2019 fiscal year budget. Republican lawmakers are beginning to waver under pressure from constituents, urging the President to pass the budget and negotiate border security funding in a separate conversation.
Contact your representatives and tell them where you stand. You can also contact the White House and recommend the President to sign a budget without border wall funding. Use Resist Bot to easily find out who your representatives are!
Here are a few organizations that are working to resolve the crisis at the border that could use your donations, time, and other forms of assistance:
Try to absorb news mindfully and don’t hesitate to disengage if you become overwhelmed. Instead of scrolling your Facebook timeline for news, subscribe to fair, fact-driven news sources that don’t sensationalize and offer a balanced perspective. Set aside a specific time for digesting news; it might even be helpful to set an alarm when you begin reading news so you don’t fall down an information spiral.
Be intentional about where you invest your energy and set boundaries with the people you engage with online. More and more activists are keeping their social profiles private or turning off comments — consider what would make your online spaces feel more safe and supportive and take measures to make that a reality. And whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls!