How does the shutdown affect Washington state?
Guest Writer, Chelsea Mancilla
It’s officially the longest government shutdown ever — and the effects are becoming increasingly apparent. The previous longest shutdown record was 21 days during Bill Clinton’s presidency. With tens of thousands of federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay, the effects of the shutdown are trickling down from the basic agency level.
Washington has ranked as the 18th most-affected state, according to a report by WalletHub. The WalletHub researchers compared states based on five measurements, including the percent of families receiving food stamps and the number of federal jobs. An estimated 11,000 employees in Washington have been furloughed, according to Governing.com. However, the shutdown is affecting everyone, even if they aren’t a federal employee. Because many agencies have already been funded, only about a quarter of the government is affected, unlike previous wholesale shutdowns in January 2018 and October 2013.
Among the agencies affected by the partial shutdown is the Department of Interior, which oversees our National Parks. Due to the shutdown, Mount Rainier National Park is only partially open. Currently, visitors can access the park from the Nisqually entrance to Longmire, and the Inn at Longmire will remain open, dependent on weather conditions. But the jewel feature of the park, known as Paradise, will be closed to visitors because of the limited resources to clear the roads of snow.
In Seattle, earthquake monitoring is being put on hold because five of the engineers at Puget Sound Seismic Network were furloughed from the U.S. Geological Survey. Without those five engineers, repairs on their sensors cannot be conducted efficiently. Director Paul Bodin stated to KUOW.org, “We’ve been lucky and there haven’t been a lot of earthquakes,” he continues. “As we move forward, particularly beyond next week, things are gonna get much more tenuous.” In addition, the State Lands Commissioner says the Department of Natural Resources has had to cancel firefighter training sessions because of the budget fight in D.C. Natural disasters better not make an appearance this month.
Washington has 73,000 federal employees, and countless others who are contracted by the government. Even actors with the Seattle Shakespeare Company will not receive their expected $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Cuts or disruptions to food benefits may also begin if the shutdown continues, according to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). More than 800,000 people in Washington participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). People who receive SNAP benefits usually see those benefits show up on their Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT cards, between the first and 20th of the month. They can now expect February benefits to arrive by Jan. 20, the DSHS announced.
The early payments are a result of a U.S. Department of Agriculture move to issue February funds to states early. The shutdown hasn’t yet interrupted SNAP payments because when the department’s funding expired in mid-December, SNAP benefits for January were already fully funded, according to the department. But the lasting shutdown threw future SNAP payments into question. It remains unclear what will happen come March.
As the tax season closes in, citizens may be questioning the condition of the IRS. The IRS has retained over 46,000 workers, or 57.4 percent of its original workforce. The majority of those employees are working without pay, though they’ll get back pay once the government reopens. The staffing will let the IRS continue some operations for now, particularly functions that are automatic (and require limited to no workers) and those deemed “necessary for the safety of human life or protection of government property.” Some examples: processing electronic returns, processing returns with payments, mailing tax forms, appeals, criminal law enforcement and investigations, and technical work to make sure computer systems remain up and running.
While some Republicans have said they would consider a Democratic plan to reopen the government now while wall negotiations continue, Trump claimed the party is united behind his hard-line approach. As things stand, Congress still needs to pass seven spending bills, including the contentious Homeland Security appropriations bill, which governs funding for border security and a potential wall.