Photo: Paul Buckowski, Albany Times Union
The federal government shutdown has cut a great swath through the nation and into the Capital Region’s 6,600 federal employees, their families and the people they serve.
It’s touched farmers, custodians, airport operators, federal agents, food quality inspections. The list goes on.
And even if the shutdown ended tomorrow, the effects would linger, as the massive bureaucracy strains to catch up.
It’s a good chance morale and the psychological consequences will reverberate as well, if Lisa Baranik’s earlier research is an indication.
The University at Albany School of Business assistant professor of management led a psychological survey of furloughed employees from the last federal shutdown of over two weeks in October 2013.
“Being furloughed mattered,” Baranik said.
What else matters? To find out, the Times Union looked at a range of activities dependent of the federal government.
The Food and Drug Administration is doing fewer inspections than before the government shutdown. But the agency says it is concentrating on “vital activities” that are “critical to ensuring public health and safety in the United States.”
What’s not being performed? Routine inspections of food production facilities.
“It’s not business as usual, and we are not doing all the things we would do under normal circumstances,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb told NBC News. “There are important things we are not doing.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is continuing to inspect meat, poultry and some processed egg products, according to its website.
Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs, said the FDA’s halt to regular food inspections “puts our food supply at risk.
“Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital,” she said.
The Small Business Administration was among the “noncritical” agencies mostly shuttered during the current federal shutdown.
Tell that to the small business person who’s counting on an SBA guarantee for a loan that will provide working capital and money to expand.
“We work with about 1,000 small businesses a year,” offering counseling at no cost, Bill Brigham director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Albany, told the Times Union last week. “We see businesses that needed money yesterday.”
The SBA has provided critically needed support to small companies that together employ thousands of people in the Capital Region, and millions more nationwide.
Local agencies are offering assistance to furloughed federal employees.
Through programs like food pantries, counseling, and information and referrals Catholic Charities can offer some assistance .
Catholic Charities runs 12 agencies in the greater region, which have soup kitchens, food pantries, counseling and other assistance. “We’ve waived some prerequisites for those affected by the federal shutdown to try and get assistance to people as quickly as possible,” Vincent W. Colonno, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany said.
Catholic Charities programs receive roughly $8 million dollars a year of federal funding that passes through state agencies, and there is concern that if the shutdown continues the programs those funds support might be interrupted. Vulnerable people who rely on Catholic Charities in areas like housing, food security, and heating assistance could be affected. Without these programs, many have no place to turn for critical services. The organization is urging a quick resolution to the government shutdown.
Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer: 518-512-3577 (Catholic Charities Tri-County Services)
Columbia & Greene: 518-828-8660 ; 518-943-1462
Fulton & Montgomery: 518-842-4202
Delaware, Otsego, Schoharie: 607-432-0061 ; 518-234-3581
Saratoga, Warren, Washington: 518-587-5000 ; 518-793-6212
Mohawk Hudson Humane Society offers a pet food pantry open to anyone needing help feeding their pets. Pet owners can stop by the Menands Animal Care Center at 3 Oakland Avenue, open daily noon and 6 pm, and request pet food. Food is also available at our Saratoga Clinic, located at 5255 Route 50, Monday through Friday between 9 am and noon.
The Society will waive income-qualifying requirements for federal workers for spay/neuter and wellness services, including vaccinations, deworming and other treatments, at its Saratoga Clinic during the shutdown. Call 518-886-9645.
But in recent days, the SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) office on Computer Drive South was dark, as was the adjacent SBA office. A sign advised that it would reopen “once funding is available.”
The SBA said on its website the it is still processing disaster loans to both businesses and homeowners. But on Friday, The New York Times reported that President Trump was considering using disaster recovery funds to pay for the construction of a wall along the border with Mexico, the issue that triggered the shutdown in the first place.
The National Transportation Safety Board is among the federal agencies that have put investigations on hold in the wake of the federal government shutdown. The most prominent local case involves the crash of a limousine in Schoharie County last autumn that killed 20 people.
The NTSB said last week it would have to call an investigator back from furlough, now that it has been granted access to the wrecked limousine.
But the agency hasn’t been able to investigate a number of other accidents that have occurred. The Washington Post reported last week that at least 10 incidents that claimed 22 lives haven’t been investigated.
The Federal Railroad Administration, meanwhile, was expected to furlough more than 40 percent of its workforce, Railway Age reported, although its Office of Railway Safety staff were expected to stay on the job, without pay.
Others working but not being paid include air traffic controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration, and Transportation Security Administration employees. Commercial pilots held a rally outside the Capitol building in Washington Thursday calling for an end to the shutdown.
The passport application office at the Postal Service facility on Karner Road was busy Wednesday afternoon, as several people waited to have photos taken and their forms sent off for processing.
“We continue to accept passports and are advised that applications are being processed,” U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Maureen Marion told the Times Union. “No change to our operations as we facilitate passport services at this time.”
“Passports are still being processed,” said Jean Gagnon of Plaza Travel in Latham. She said expedited processing was being offered as well.
Applications for the TSA PreCheck program also continue to be processed. Participants who undergo a background check can take advantage of the expedited PreCheck security lanes at the nation’s airports.
Travelers applying for Global Entry, a program that expedites customs and immigration clearances when re-entering the United States, but which requires a background check and personal interview, may not be as fortunate.
Applications for the Customs and Border Patrol program aren’t being processed while the government is shut down. “New applications will be processed after the government resumes operations,” AskTSA tweeted.
Ask Columbia County farmer Paul Jahns about the federal shutdown and you’ll get an earful about government dysfunction and posturing by politicians. But when it comes to how the shutdown affects his corn, soybean and wheat crops, Jahns said it’s had little impact so far. “For us, life goes on,” he said.
Like other area farmers, he keeps busy this time of year making soy and corn deliveries, fixing equipment and preparing for the planting season.
“It’s probably too soon to see the real impact,” state Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Ammerman said of how the shutdown is affecting many farmers.
The most visible sign of a shutdown for farmers may be the closure of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, which Ammerman said provides the “boots on the ground,” through a series of local offices including one in Schoharie County.
As a result, the processing and disbursement of payments to offset the losses through Chinese tariffs is on hold. Those payments are part of a $12 billion national package to compensate farmers for the tariffs on exported soy and other products, which stemmed from trade disputes between China and the Trump Administration.
Jahns said he’d already put his application in and received his payment before the shutdown.
The USDA earlier in the week extended the deadline to apply for those payments from Jan. 15 through the end of the shutdown, although the applications won’t be processed until the stalemate is over.
“They can’t get that money until everything is cleared,” Washington County farmer Jim Czub said of those who didn’t yet apply. Like Jahns, he said he met the deadline for the offsets.
Due to the wet fall, some farmers hit delays in harvesting their crops, said Ammerman, which means reports that go to the USDA for aid like loans will be delayed. It’s not unusual for farmers to get loans for items like seeds or new equipment and pay the money back after their harvests.
One area where the shutdown could eventually have an impact is on crop futures, which are an important part of the business.
Jahns may sell some of soy or corn supplies next week or next year, depending on what the price predictions say. To help track that, he subscribes to a private service that gives ongoing readouts from market exchanges like the Chicago Board of Trade. Those services are uninterrupted.
But Czub noted that the government also issues crop reports which can feed into futures prices, which are now being delayed. “What will that do to the futures market?” he asked.
Both Czub and Jahns expressed frustration, like many, about how the president and Congress can’t come to an agreement or compromise in order to reopen the government.
“It’s a shame it has come down to this giant wrestling match,” said Czub. “They can’t sit down and iron this out?” asked Jahns. “Maybe we should fire the politicians.”
In addition to the 2013 shutdown, in which the Republican Congress clashed with then-President Barack Obama over funding for Obamacare, there were two shutdowns during the Clinton Administration. Those were in 1995 and 1996 and involved fights over funding government services. While the 2013 closure was over health care, this shutdown is over President Trump’s insistence on funding for a full wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which is opposed by Democrats.
UAlbany’s Baranik, who teaches human resource management courses, said the current shutdown is notable since Trump has suggested it could last as long as a year. In 2013 there was a sense that both sides wanted to end it rapidly.
“It’s a little bit more extreme this time,” said Baranik.
“Even after a furlough has ended, employees may have lingering thoughts and emotions related to concerns about job stability and trust in their employer, or may be overwhelmed at work trying to catch up from time lost during the furlough, both of which can spill over into the home domain,” concluded the study, titled “What Happens When Employees Are Furloughed? A Resource Loss Perspective.”
One of the biggest factors that determines how harmful a furlough will be is the culture of the workplace, she noted. “Employees with supportive supervisors, autonomy to do their jobs the way they prefer, flexibility, fair treatment, and good compensation will be able to withstand the stress of a furlough better than employees in less ideal workplace cultures,” Baranik added.
Baranik and fellow researchers Janelle Cheung, Robert Sinclair and Charles Lance — from Oregon Health and Science University, Clemson University in South Carolina, and University of the Western Cape in Georgia, respectively — were initially looking to survey workplace stress.
But they realized the shutdown provided an opportunity to look at the impact of this relatively recent phenomenon. So they quickly reconfigured their questions to include impacts of the government furlough.
Baranik and her fellow researchers said in the survey that furloughs, which also take place in the private sector, haven’t been looked at much in terms of the effect on employees.