Where do we currently stand on the government shutdown?
As of today, the federal government has been partially shutdown for 31 days and counting – the longest stretch in history. While most of us know about the shutdown, not everyone understands how it is playing out for workers, for millions of Americans who rely on federal programs, and for the economy. Today I want to talk about how we got here, what to expect in the days and perhaps weeks to come if the federal government remains shutdown, as well as some options for those affected.
First, let’s talk about the basics: why did it happen, how long could it last, and who has been affected?
This shutdown started last month when Congress and the president failed to reach an agreement to appropriate money to operate several sectors of the federal government, including everything from the departments of Urban Development, Interior, State, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security, to national parks and the Peace Corps. The sticking point is funding President Trump requested for a border wall. Here we are a month later, and the president has said this impasse could last months.
The lack of funding is affecting millions of Americans. Roughly 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed without pay, and 420,000 people are working without receiving paychecks because they provide “essential” services. Nearly 4 million government contractors are also furloughed, and are likely to go uncompensated for the time they did not work during the shutdown. On top of this, millions of people rely on numerous federal programs could be in for pain if an agreement is not reached, and the economy is starting to show signs of damage.
What can workers who have been affected do?
For those workers, there are a few things I would suggest. If you have not already done so, reach out to your creditors and inquire about leniency or about programs they available for situations like this. Some lenders have options specifically for furloughed workers. If they do not offer that option, ask what if anything they can do for you in the short-term that will allow you to prioritize the most important costs such as food and housing.
You can also visit 211.org, a website that helps connect people to local social services, like help with prescriptions or other medical issues, and childcare.
If you are not getting a paycheck, consider no-interest or low-interest loans. Some credit unions and banks are offering them to those affected. Several lenders have been working to lessen the blow in other ways, by waiving fees or postponing payment deadlines. Credit card and mortgage late charges might also be dropped. Some banks are waiving some fees for government employees who have direct-deposit set up.
Finally, if you have been furloughed, you are likely to be eligible for unemployment benefits in your state, though it varies. It is certainly worth exploring. Just remember, employees who receive unemployment benefits and also later receive a retroactive payment from their employer for the same time period, will be required to repay the ui benefits received.
Beyond the labor force, how is the shutdown playing out?
Federal programs that millions of low-income Americans depend on are already being affected. Contracts for more than 1,000 government-funded properties that house low-income renters have already expired, and over 1000 more set to do so by February. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will also run out of funding at the end of next month. The National School Lunch Program (NSLC), a federally funded initiative that provides more than 30 million at-need youth with nutritious meals, could be at risk if the shutdown continues. Some districts are already cutting back on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Most Americans will feel the effects on air travel, as the nation’s airport security screening system battles high absenteeism as a result of TSA workers going unpaid. Some airports have started closing terminals due to staffing issues. The federal court system is running out of money. Vacationers are missing out as many national parks and museums have been shuttered.
Disaster relief is likely be hampered, as thousands of emergency responders are missing courses in firefighting and emergency response. There were concerns that 6 million Americans expecting tax refunds would not be receiving them during the shutdown. However, the IRS has said it has called over 40,000 employees back to work without pay and it will be processing tax returns, though we can expect delays.
When it comes to the economy, the ripple effects are also starting to show. The agriculture, real estate, and energy industries are all looking years of setbacks caused by pauses in federal loans, permits and other regulatory permissions. Investors are looking at delayed deal-making approval. Retailers that depend on consumers spending – particularly in states with concentrations of federal workers like Virginia and Maryland – are certain to suffer.
Even the analysis from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers suggests that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could ultimately push the United States economy into a contraction. So, while the workings of the federal government can seem far away to some, its import to remember how important they actually are.
What about the rest of us Americans who rely on the government for services?
We have never had a shutdown last this long, so we are in unknown territory. For those affected by the lack of funding for programs for low-income Americans, the consequences of a shutdown through February could be dire. It is hard to say if states will step in, or if leaders in DC will pass smaller bills to address some of these issues piecemeal. Right now, we just have to hope we do not reach that point.
Mellody Hobson is President of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts. Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.
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