WASHINGTON – State and local officials and the people they serve are increasingly feeling the pinch of the partial government shutdown.
“We can’t stop providing services. We are at ground zero,” said Humboldt County, California, Supervisor Virginia Bass. “We keep doing more with less, but we can only do so much.”
From road projects to food stamps to preventing the next round of wildfires, effects of the shutdown are starting to hit home as politicians in the nation’s capital wrestle over funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall. On average, about 33 percent of each state’s revenue comes from the federal government.
President Donald Trump on Monday said he rejected a suggestion from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to temporarily reopen the government while continuing to negotiate with Democrats over the border wall Trump is insisting Congress fund through the stalled spending bills.
“I did reject it,” Trump told reporters. “Many of the people that aren’t being paid right now are in total agreement with us.”
Here is a look at some areas around the U.S. where people are feeling the impact of the shutdown or soon will:
In Missouri, some rural transit providers that rely heavily on federal funding are starting to lay off part-time drivers and prioritize services. Visits to the doctor will take precedent over shopping trips, for example.
“The longer (the shutdown) goes on, it will probably get worse,” said Ed Hassinger, deputy director and chief engineer of the Missouri Department of Transportation. “At some point, they probably will have to seriously consider cutting service to less days a week, or maybe completely.”
States are feeling less of a pinch with federal highway dollars than transit money. But some are becoming more nervous as construction season approaches, said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
In Oklahoma, about 45 upcoming road projects totaling more than $137 million are being delayed.
“We’re a very fiscally conservative state,” said Terri Angier, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. “We’re not going to obligate funds we don’t know we have.”
Even if states have the funds to complete a project, there could be delays in getting necessary permits from shuttered agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency or the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s hard to move projects forward if you’re waiting on a decision,” Tymon said.
Although the Agriculture Department has enough money to pay food stamp benefits through February, some households could still run short. The benefits are going out early and states are warning recipients that they need to make them last.
“Recipients are strongly encouraged to budget their (food stamp) benefits,” the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration said Friday when announcing the February aid will be distributed Wednesday.
But people tend to shop for food quickly after their assistance becomes available, said John Elliott, head of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, the state’s largest hunger relief organization.
“We are anticipating a significant increase at some point in February when their combined January and February benefits run out,” Elliott said.
Help for women and children
The federal government is working to keep money flowing to states for another major food assistance program, which benefits pregnant women, infants and children. But some states are concerned about the Agriculture Department’s ability to keep afloat all 90 state agencies that administer WIC benefits. That’s in part because the government has to recover unspent funding from prior years and reallocate it, according to the National WIC Association.
Confusion and miscommunication could also be a problem. For example, after a technical glitch temporarily caused distribution problems in North Carolina recently, a grocery store posted a sign incorrectly blaming the problem on the federal government shutdown.
When recipients are turned away, it can be hard to get them back. During the 2013 shutdown, for example, caseloads dropped and didn’t recover fully, according to the National WIC Association.
“Families read the news and they just get nervous, and they’re not sure,” said the Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway, president and CEO of the National WIC Association.
Wildfires and other emergencies
Bass, the county official from California, and Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, said officials are concerned about the impact of the shutdown on preparations for the next round of wildfires and other disasters.
Wildland firefighters are not training because of the U.S. Forest Service being shut down, Knaus said, and the agency has suspended controlled burns. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is not conducting its usual training to prepare for responding to the wildfires.
In Montana a tribal member was worried about the strange look of his drinking water and tried to contact the Environmental Protection Agency for advice. The EPA is closed.
Kristi Ponozzo with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said her agency was eventually able to provide some guidance.
Other examples she cited of the impact of the EPA shutdown included a possible delay in a mining project because EPA staff is not available for consultation, and a delay in progress on cleanup of two Superfund sites in the state.
Michigan affiliates with the League of Conservation Voters say the EPA shutdown may delay a forum in Michigan to discuss concerns about water contaminated with Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are associated with health problems, including cancer.
In Florida, LCV leaders say the shutdown means that satellite tracking of red tides along the coasts is no longer available through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which is part of the shuttered Department of Commerce.
Housing for the needy
As of Jan. 3, more than 1,000 contracts between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and landlords who rent to the poor – affecting about 70,000 to 85,000 low-income households – were suspended because of the shutdown, according to the advocacy coalition the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding.
Under the Section 8 program, tenants pay a percentage of their rent and the federal government covers the rest.
With federal funding cut off, tenants could be evicted.
Kathi Cozzone, vice chairwoman of the Chester County Commissioners in suburban Philadelphia, said some of these people – given their limited means – may not have another option and could end up homeless.
At the same time, she said, the landlords are put in a difficult position as well.
“I couldn’t blame the landlords … because they have their own bills to pay,” Cozzone said. She said the county will work with landlords to avoid evictions.
Low-income people with HIV/AIDS face eviction as well. Bass, the California county official, said 30 people in Humboldt County rely on the program funded through a HUD grant, which is now frozen.
Bass said local officials will have to look for alternative sources of funding.
“But not everything is going to have an alternative source,” Bass said. “We’re stuck in a state of perpetual limbo and it’s tiring.”
The National Science Foundation has awarded zero research grants since December 21. That compares with 307 grants valued at more than $103 million distributed to universities during the same time period a year ago, according to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
“The impact on science is a slow strangling of the American scientific enterprise,” said spokesman Benjamin Corb.
At Western Michigan University, NSF postdoctoral research fellow Erika Calvo-Ochoa hasn’t been paid since December. Calvo-Ochoa is studying brain regeneration in fish, research that could lead to new treatments for people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or a stroke.
But if the shutdown continues much longer, Calvo-Ochoa said she won’t be able to afford child care and will have to stop her research and teaching to stay home with her 2-year-old.
“I’m worried,” Calvo-Ochoa said. “Just the uncertainty of not knowing when I’m going to get paid and if this is going to have a negative impact on my research and my career.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s call to replace the voting machines in all of the state’s 67 counties languishes because the Election Assistance Commission is closed.
Cozzone, the Pennsylvania county official, said the goal is to have voting machines in place in time for the 2020 elections to create a paper trail to guard against outside meddling.
Counties, she said, already are operating on a tight schedule and cannot move ahead without the commission certifying the new election equipment, which can’t happen while the agency is closed.
The Virginia Commission for the Arts is still trying to assess the short- and long-term effects of the halt in funding from the National Endowment from the Arts.
The commission has received only about 5 percent of the approximately $700,000 it’s expecting from the NEA this fiscal year. The money is distributed to arts organizations across the state and to individual artists for local events.
Some payments are scheduled to be distributed mid-February. If that can’t happen, the commission may have to use state dollars as a stopgap, said executive director Janet Starke.
“We’re just really trying to determine the assessment now of what we need to do and what we need to plan for,” Starke said.