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Shutdown affects more than just workers

The most immediate impact of the partial government shutdown was felt by federal employees of affected agencies, who were either furloughed without pay or, if designated “essential,” required to keep working without pay. Now the “collateral damage” of the shutdown is starting to become evident, and it will affect everyone.

In Monday’s paper, The Associated Press reported that some states and some local communities were already feeling an economic slump because so many federal employees live there.

The state of Montana is among the leaders in the West, with 1,500 federal workers for every 100,000 employed residents. In Ogden, Utah — a city about the size of Medford — more than 4,000 federal employees are affected, including workers for regional IRS offices and U.S. Forest Service employees. Restaurants are cutting back hours because furloughed workers have stopped eating out to save money, and the city relies on the sales tax for a third of its income.

Things are not quite so dire here, although Oregon falls in the middle of states for the proportion of federal employees. This state has more federal employees per 100,000 workers than either Washington or California.

At Crater Lake National Park, visitors can no longer drive up to the visitors center or the rim. At other national parks and public recreation sites, trash is accumulating and bathrooms befouled by people who still show up even though there are no park workers to empty the bins or clean the toilets.

And, while Ogden is hit especially hard because of the concentration of IRS workers, every taxpayer is facing the probability that income tax refunds will be delayed. Filing season starts this month, and it’s not clear how the shuttered agency will respond when returns start pouring in.

The White House insisted Monday that tax refunds would be processed, but it’s not clear exactly how. Previous administrations decided they did not have the power to issue refunds during a shutdown. The Treasury Department was reportedly looking into how it could be done, but an administration official acknowledged that it is considered illegal to incur an obligation on the part of the federal government that is not authorized and appropriated by Congress, meaning workers could not be summoned back and checks could not be written.

Democrats in Congress were planning to pass a bill funding just the Treasury Department. That would increase pressure on Senate Republicans, who are starting to express concern about the effects of the shutdown on their states and their constituents. Rep. Greg Walden, to his credit, was one of seven House Republicans voting to end the shutdown last week, although he voted against a separate bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department will be unable to continue providing food stamps — now called the SNAP program — without an appropriation. The program renews automatically every year, but its funding does not.

Public safety is also at risk, because federal aircraft inspections aren’t happening during the shutdown.

All this is to point out that, no matter what your opinion on the merits of a border wall, shutting down part of the government makes no sense.

Members of Congress are supposed to represent their constituents. We’ll see how responsive they are when voters start complaining about not getting their tax refunds.

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