Consumers Feel Pinch as Government Shutdown Continues
The federal shutdown continues this week, even as officials report some signs of progress in negotiations to get the government up and running again. As a consequence, offices that have used reserve funds and moved money around to keep functioning could run short and consumers will see a continued reduction in government services.
The people feeling the shutdown most directly are those employed by the federal government, who at this point are either working without pay or sitting at home. Government employees (with the exception of those in the military and certain civilian support roles) won’t be getting paid for any work after Oct. 1 until the legislative standoff ends, even though many of them, deemed “essential,” have to continue showing up to their jobs in the meantime.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, essential employees are those involved in:
Providing for the national security;
Providing for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year or other funds remaining available for those purposes;
Conducting essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property
Which workers are essential or not is somewhat fluid, as normally non-essential employees can be called back temporarily to handle emergencies like a disease outbreak or natural disaster.
Victims Turned Away
It’s not just federal workers who are feeling the pinch, however. Consumers who rely directly or indirectly on government programs and functions are finding themselves in a holding pattern, with potentially dangerous consequences for some.
The status of federal courts, already thrown into disarray by the ongoing budget-busting sequester, becomes shakier by the day.
“It’s going to vary from district to district,” says James R. Silkenat, president of the American Bar Association. “Each district court is handling it based on their particular finances and caseload and the complexities of cases that are coming up. As each district runs into the same problems, absent a pocket of money they’ll all wind up facing the same situation.”
Most courts are expected to be able to function through Thursday, and then have to curtail their activities as they lose access to translators, security people, IT support and other services. While some cases deemed “essential” will continue to be heard, “business cases, and a range of issues facing everyday Americans that they need to get resolved just won’t,” Silkenat says. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Victims of sexual and domestic violence could have additional obstacles thrown in their path to justice as well. The federal Office on Violence Against Woman, part of the Justice Department, has been shuttered, which means that money is not being distributed to domestic violence and rape crisis and advocacy centers nationwide and women and children who have sought refuge in shelters could be turned out onto the streets.
Victim advocates who operate in Washington, D.C., and rely on federal funding are reporting that they could run out of money and be forced to stop administering rape kits to survivors, which would mean crucial DNA evidence needed to convict their attackers could be lost forever.
Women, Children and Grizzlies
Among other ways the shutdown is affecting Americans:
- The Women, Infants and Children program is likely to run out of funds by the end of the month, which would suspend nutritional assistance to pregnant women and newborn babies until the government is funded again.
- Most mortgages are proceeding as normal; however large loans that exceed $417,000 may be difficult to get approved because lenders are not able to get tax verification from the IRS during the shutdown, which could also make it hard to take out other types of loans.
- National parks are closed, although states have been given the option to keep them open on their own dime if they so choose. Rangers are taking the closures seriously, as a Pennsylvania man learned when he went jogging in Valley Forge National Park and was hit with a $100 fine, which he plans to appeal on principle even at the risk of up to six months in federal prison.
Who is taking advantage and even benefiting from the shutdown? Grizzly bears, that’s who. With federal employees responsible for waste management on furlough, bears near Fairbanks are reportedly feasting on trash left behind by hikers on BLM land.