Complete economic free fall, the closure of schools, the unemployed forming into unimaginably long breadlines, violence in the streets, an entire country in disarray– these might be some of the images that come to mind when you hear the words “government shutdown” in every headline on every news network at every hour of the day. However, the reality is much more subdued than these dramatized scenarios, thankfully. But the country is still facing the prospects of some very real consequences nevertheless.
The government has been stuck in the standstill of a partial government shutdown since December 22, 2018, after lawmakers and the president were unable to reach an agreement over the prospect of funding for Trump’s proposed border wall and therefore failed to pass a spending bill. This legislative failure resulted in the furlough of approximately 800,000 “non-essential” federal workers just days before Christmas, and 380,000 of these affected men and women have been placed on unpaid leave for nearly a month. Furthermore, by now this shutdown has officially entered history books as the longest shutdown of the United States government in our nation’s history.
Although 800,000 is an astonishing amount of employees either working without pay or simply going without work, this total halt to the actions of the federal government hasn’t seemed to have a very visible effect on us here in southern Illinois. In fact, according to research conducted by Patch Illinois ranked as the 11th least affected state by the shutdown.
Currently, the most visible consequence of the shutdown has been the closures of several visitors center and rangers stations in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and the Shawnee National Forest, along with signs notifying park goers that there aren’t any employees working to pick up any trash. This inconvenience, however, has not been noticed by many due to the winter weather. TSA agents at the Veterans Airport of So. IL, although unpaid, have so far continued working as usual. The Southern Illinoisan reached out to the federal building in Carbondale to ask how the shutdown might impede any services which they offer to the public; but the Social Security Office refers messages to the agency’s website and the U.S. General Services Administration did not answer the phone.
Of the 800,000 federal workers who haven’t seen a paycheck since the shutdown began, a report released by Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee stated that more than 420,000 federal employees deemed essential have been called back to work without any pay in an attempt to blunt the impact of the government shutdown. This number includes 41,000 law enforcement and corrections officers, some of which are employed right here in Southern Illinois at the federal penitentiary in Marion, which has yet to comment on the situation.
Admiral Karl Schultz, a Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, raised alarm to another serious side effect of this lack of legislative action via Tweet on January 16 which would directly impact members of some of our armed forces. “Today you will not be receiving your regularly scheduled paycheck. To the best of my knowledge, this marks that first time in our Nation’s history that servicemembers in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in appropriations.”
This freeze on some of the actions able to be taken by our country’s defense services not only cause a danger to the safety of American lives and interests, but might also affect the future plans of some young people who wish to serve their country, including students right here at Herrin High.
Gina Wagley, a junior at HHS who plans on enlisting in the National Guard, said that the shutdown has put a temporary halt to her enlistment process. “I was at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) and the system was down, so no one could enlist.” Although this major hiccup to the enlistment process has not been much more than an aggravating inconvenience to Wagley yet, it could possibly become a devastating problem if the government does not reopen soon.
For one to qualify for any type of financial assistance of military benefits in regards to paying college tuition, a servicemember must have been enlisted for one year prior to receiving any benefits. The thought of not being able to start college in the fall of 2020 is very concerning for Wagley. “I can’t enlist, and that puts a dent into when I could go to college.”
This nail-biting waiting game perfectly characterizes the worrisome situation which the country in currently engulfed in. If the shutdown continues into February we will begin to see a reduction in SNAP benefits for those who rely on food stamps and funding for school nutrition programs, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Jackson County has announced only has enough funding to provide certain services to local residents who rely on section eight housing assistance through the end of February, and a prolonged shutdown could also result in the delay of a construction project at the Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois which was slated to be funded by an FAA grant which is not currently receiving any funding.
As a second missed pay period approaches 800,000 unpaid federal workers, this snapshot of the serious problems facing us here in Southern Illinois is only a small portion of the grave concerns which the nation as a whole is about to meet head on if a compromise can’t soon be reached. As the president refuses to waver with his demands, and Congress fails to put forth any reasonable proposals which the other side of the aisle might be able to consider, the American people have now found themselves to be collateral in a much greater political spat. However, for the average federal employee this partisan standoff amounts to much more than a mere disagreement, but an increasingly worrisome unstable financial situation, which they might not be able to wait out much longer.
This story was originally published on Tiger Tattler on January 23, 2019.