BY ANNA KANE ’20
The longest partial government shutdown in the history of the United States is now over. President Donald Trump signed a short-term spending bill on Jan. 25, funding the government through Feb. 15 without the $5.7 billion he had originally demanded for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The stopgap bill, a temporary measure to reopen the government, restored normal operations at closed federal agencies, allowing the 800,000 federal workers furloughed and unpaid during the shutdown to return to work. In addition to these 800,000 who went unpaid, the Washington Post reported that over a million federal contract workers, who are often lower-paid, were also affected by the shut down and will not receive back pay.
Beginning on Dec. 22, the 35-day shutdown affected numerous federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and national parks and museums.
For Ellie Viggiani ’20, the government shutdown was personal. Viggiani’s parents are enforcement lawyers at the EPA responsible for Region 1, which includes New England, and were furloughed during the shutdown. While she emphasized that her family was fortunate enough to be financially stable during the shutdown, the period was not without stress.
“There is always this tension and fear, wondering when they will go back to work, if they will get back pay,” she said, adding that her parents would have had to draw from retirement savings to pay tuition bills for both Viggiani and her sister had the shutdown continued.
Viggiani said now that the shutdown is over, there is a sense of relief as federal employees return to their work. “My mom does chemical prevention and there are a few warehouses in urban areas she is really worried about [because she has not been able to monitor their safety]. But I think there is also a sense of anger. This [a shutdown] happens practically every year.”
While the government shutdown is over for at least the time being, there are concerns of long-term damage to the economy and to national parks. According to the New York Times, an analysis from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s found that the U.S. economy lost at least $6 billion dollars during the five week-long shutdown.
At Joshua Tree National Park, reports surfaced that said some of the park’s famous trees were chopped down. At Death Valley National Park, tire marks from off-road vehicles damaged delicate plains, which could take as long as centuries to recover, according to The Guardian. National Geographic also reported that national parks lost as much as $400,000 per day from not charging entrance fees, and efforts to restore and repair the parks will be expensive.
In the Mount Holyoke geology department, news of the shutdown and conditions in national parks caused anxiety among both students and professors, as the Death Valley Field Course prepares to visit the national park during spring break. “A lot of other national parks had a huge trash issue, but Death Valley is a really fragile area because it’s so arid and it takes way longer for it to recover from being disturbed,” said Abigail Boak ’20, a geology major and department liaison. “Tracks from offroaders could be around for tens to hundreds of years.”
“I think the main concern now is going to be the state of the park,” they said, but if another shutdown occurs, the already booked trip may have to be canceled.
Airports across the country also felt the impact of the government shutdown, with the biggest flight delays in the northeast, particularly in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Delays lasted an hour on average and were attributed to staffing shortages at air traffic control centers in Washington, D.C. and Florida. TSA reported that employees calling out from work had more than doubled from a year ago, from 3 percent up to 7.6 percent.
In a CNN article, Executive Vice President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association Trish Gilbert stated that delays at airports across the country could be attributed directly to the shutdown.
“You can’t mess with a system that is so integral to the United States,” Gilbert said. “This is reckless, what has been going on with the shutdown.”
While traveling from LAX airport in Los Angeles to BDL in Hartford on Jan. 21, Nina Gilkyson ’22 found TSA to be slower than usual, but arrived at the airport three hours early in preparation for the slower pace.
“I waited around 20 minutes to make it through TSA in comparison to the normal wait time of 10 minutes or less,” she said. “I could feel an atmosphere of frustration and general discontent among the TSA workers, but everything went smoothly.”
There is still potential for more political tension to ensue on Feb. 15 if an agreement is not reached by both Republicans and Democrats. According National parks, air travel affected by shutdown, cont’d to a CNN report on Jan. 24, the White House began to draft a national emergency proclamation to allocate billions of dollars for a border wall. At this time, it is unclear what that means for the future. The New York Times reported that a House-Senate conference committee is expected to negotiate a border security plan in the next three weeks. Should both parties fail to reach a consensus, federal agencies are at risk of closing again.