Government shutdown prompts local response

Thursday, January 24, 2019 - 5:44pm

The federal government shutdown of 33 days has begun to impact finances, both at home and in the workplace.

The federal government shutdown of 33 days has begun to impact finances, both at home and in the workplace. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

The current shutdown of the federal government has lasted 33 days so far, making it the longest shutdown in U.S. history. With no set end date, the shutdown has begun impacting finances, both at home and in the workplace. These impacts have prompted a number of local responses from Michigan government representatives and from those on campus. 

The federal shutdown began on Dec. 22, 2018 after Congress members failed to agree on a border security deal. President Donald Trump has shut down the government, saying he won't reopen it until he receives a payment plan for the Mexico-United States border wall. Democrats in Congress refuse to accept his offer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the State of the Union Address would not be held until the president reopens the government.

In an interview with Michigan News, Matthew Shapiro, professor of Economics at the University of Michigan, said this shutdown is far different than the one in 2013 because there is no end in sight. He explained those affected have delayed paying bills, including paying their mortgage, because doing so helped them financially during the 2013 government shutdown. However, through a study he conducted with fellow researchers, Shapiro determined delaying payments will do far more harm than good, as it will cause serious trauma to workers’ finances in the long run.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer teamed up with Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jay Inslee of Washington to release a joint statement asking for individual states to grant unemployment benefits to federal workers who attend work without compensation. The Department of Labor has told workers they are not technically unemployed and therefore do not qualify for unemployment benefits. 

On Jan. 23, U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, and Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, introduced emergency legislation called the Pay Federal Workers Act allowing states to make unemployment benefits available for these unpaid federal workers during government shutdowns.  

The federal shutdown also means several agencies in Washington, D.C., have been closed indefinitely. This has caused a backup in workflow, especially as it pertains to the reception of proposals from lobbyists to legislators.

Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president of government relations at the University, spends her time working closely with lobbyists both locally and in Washington, D.C. She has found members of Congress are still present during this situation, but some agencies are closed.

“The members of Congress are still quite accessible,” Wilbanks said. “We have not experienced a delay or any particular issues with respect to members of Congress. Their offices are open. … Some of the agencies, however, are not considered essential, so they are being impacted if they were not funded in the regular appropriation cycle.”

Wilbanks recalled one employee telling her how sometimes there is no one in certain departments to receive their project in grant proposals. She advised her to still observe deadlines in the hopes that when the government does reopen, they recieve responses to their work as close to on schedule as possible.

“I was advising one faculty member, she was working on a proposal that needed to be submitted, and her agency —the agency that she’s submitting it to — is technically not working,” Wilbanks said. “And I said, ‘Don’t miss the deadline,’ because the last thing you want is not submitting it on time.”

One of the main priorities in Wilbanks' division is research. The University is the largest public research university and has been impacted by the shutdown. Wilbanks is helping her staff work around the shutdown, though the longer the uncertainty continues, the harder it is for her staff to continue their projects.

“The shutdown is certainly problematic — it leaves a lot of uncertainty,” Wilbanks said. “Most of our researchers and administration itself are considering how to bridge the current situation with(out) the support that keeps many of these programs and projects going, but by now, I’m pretty sure that just in any course of action that we might think about the course that says, ‘Well, we’ll be shut down for another 30 or 60 days’ will start to have ripple effects and impact a number of people at the University. It’s just hard to know which ones.”

Katie Kelly, communications director of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, voiced the organization’s disappointment with the president in an email to The Daily. The group shares the same concerns as Govs. Whitmer, Cuomo and Inslee with regards to federal employees receiving proper payment.

“It is beyond disappointing that the government has been shutdown for as long as it has,” Kelly said. “Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are working without paychecks and that is unacceptable. The president has the ability to open the government, and instead, he is throwing a temper tantrum in an attempt to try and get his way. It is a disgrace. Only once the government is open and people are back to work can we begin to discuss issues like border security. Let’s get the government back open and the hardworking federal employees their paychecks back.”

Dylan Berger, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, reiterated some of Kelly’s feelings of disapproval in an email to The Daily, but thinks the fault lies more with Congress than with the president.

“We’re supremely disappointed in Washington’s inability to come together and fund our government,” Berger said. “This failure of governance has needlessly hurt countless of hard-working Americans. All members of Congress should forgo their paycheck and compromise until they find a solution. Democrats ought to compromise with the president to fund border security and protect DACA recipients. Our democracy only works when both sides are willing to compromise for the good of the nation. It’s time for Washington to put country over party and find a bipartisan solution.”