Government shutdown impacts local families

Lily Geiser | Staff Writer

Good news: The government is open for business.

The longest government shutdown in history — lasting 35 days — is over. On February 16, just hours before the government was due to shut down again if a deal was not reached, President Trump signed a spending bill providing just $1.375 billion for a border wall, the result of a series of compromises between House Democrats and Republicans. But while the shutdown is now well behind us, its impacts are still being felt. 

The government lost billions of dollars, the National Parks will need years to recover from damages done by unchecked tourists, and the immigration system has become more backlogged as tens of thousands of cases were rescheduled or cancelled.

Local families employed by the government also faced consequences due to the government shutdown, which lead to approximately 800,000 federal workers nationwide to be furloughed or asked to work without pay. Junior Leah Lorenz, whose father works at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said she worried about her father’s job as soon as she heard that the government would shut down.

“He told me that the Air Force wasn’t touched by it, luckily,” Lorenz said. “We didn’t get hit by this one, but we got hit by the last one, under Obama. But it’s kind of freaky, because as soon as I heard there was a government shutdown, in my head, I was like ‘oh my gosh, my dad’s not going to be able to work.’”

Senior Mandy Harper’s mother works for the Environmental Protection Agency, which faced significant cuts during the shutdown. Her mother was deemed a nonessential employee, and so was not allowed to come into work until the shutdown ended.

“We just had to be more conscious of how we were spending, because we were losing money that we were expecting,” Harper said. “We knew we were getting it back, but we didn’t know how long the shutdown was going to last, so we could have been without her income for a long time. We weren’t going out to dinner as much, or doing anything excessive.”

Many of the families impacted by the shutdown felt the uncertainty of it in their lives. Freshman Rachel Kearney, whose father works for the Treasury Department, said that the temporary loss of income put a strain on the whole family.

“My dad, he wasn’t being paid, he wasn’t working,” Rachel said. “So there were just a lot of little things that were impacted, in my life, my parents, the entire family. Things like hanging out with my friends, (or) if I wanted to go out to dinner, because we had no idea how long it was going to last or when it was going to be over, and we needed to save in case it could last. It was just uncertainty, it was almost kind of fear, because you have no idea what’s going on.”

Even after the government reopened, there was a period when it was unclear whether it would remain open after the continuing resolution (which lasted only three weeks) expired. Frank Kearney, Rachel’s father, said his family made sure to plan ahead in case he was off work again.

“We definitely look at the upcoming bills and make sure we’re not spending anything that we don’t need to,” Frank said. “Our mortgage payments, car payments, those get paid first. We weren’t one of the real horror stories, (but) we made sure we weren’t doing any excess spending. During the shutdown, there were some people who would joke to me that I was on a paid vacation, but really, there was no frivolous spending.”

Even after the shutdown ended and any chance of it happening again soon was over, the impacts were still being felt by the families. Harper said that even after the government funded again, the transition back to work for her mother was not entirely flawless. 

“She couldn’t turn on her computer, she was having problems with that, because it had been sitting there for so long,” Harper said. “They didn’t have any food because no one had been there on Friday to order food. And this was at the same time the polar vortex was going on, so she ended up having to bring food from home so she wouldn’t have to go out.”

Harper said she found it frustrating that politicians put their own political agendas ahead of what was best for their constituents.

“In the past few years, people have been saying that our government is really divided, and sometimes I’ve been rolling my eyes, because I’ve been seeing we’ve been politically divided since the beginning of our history,” Harper said. “But I think the fact that we can’t pass a budget is very discouraging because no matter how you feel about the wall, we should be able to work to come to some sort of consensus. Both left and right, we shouldn’t be holding people back from their jobs. This shutdown has directly affected the lives of American citizens. It hurts a lot of people.”

Graphic by Ryan D’Souza.