Jan 242019

My son works for a non-profit in Washington, D.C. Thankfully, his employment is not threatened by the now month-long government shutdown. I innocently asked him (rural dweller that I am) if he enjoyed a more leisurely Metro trip into work from his Silver Spring home. He reminded me that Metro depends on rider revenue. He said that trains have fewer cars, which makes the riders just as crowded during rush hour. On off-peak times, he said, trains are hit and miss.

I use this anecdote as a silly example, an example of my naivete about the shutdown. There may be a lot of naivete around, and I’m not just talking about the tone-deaf Wilbur Ross who told CNBC he is puzzled by reports of federal workers turning to food banks and other forms of relief, suggesting they should be able to obtain bridge loans to tide them over until the government reopens.

No, the naivete I’m talking about is how we fail to realize the larger impact of the shutdown on our country. The press keeps reporting on the 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck. What about federal contractors? Vox reported there are about half a million federal contractors who work for multiple federal government agencies, many in low-wage jobs. Workers furloughed, regardless of federal or contract status, may be the heads of household and responsible for other people. They may have child support or help aging relatives. Student loans? Daycare? Medications?

Each worker’s family has an economic impact within their community, affecting businesses, large and small. If they aren’t working, they aren’t buying gas or getting the oil changed in their car. They likely aren’t paying child care, and in the competitive daycare world, their child may lose his spot. If they rent, missing a payment may cause their landlord problems with finances on his end. Like skipping a stone across a still pond, this problem ripples across our communities affecting everyone.

The media reports the larger problems. The reports are more dire with each passing day. As I write this, the crawl (photo below) on CNN says Bank of America CEO Warns of Long-Term Damage to U.S. Economy Due to Trade & Shutdown Uncertainty.

And if are horrified by the one, take a gander at any of these.

Tax funds may be delayed as Hundreds of IRS workers skip work over shutdown. But you get to keep paying your taxes!

Impact of shutdown on research funding. Government-funded research from healthcare to energy and weather impacts all American citizens. And heads up, wash the sheets in the guest room, your daughter who is a researcher in graduate school may need your basement.

Maybe we don’t need the PandaCam but the Violence Against Woman Act, which expired in December, provides needed services for women and children at risk. And federal highways aren’t being repaired; federal parks are overrun with litter. Did I mention the Coast Guard and border agents? And the court system? What federal agencies are responsible for the migrant children we are holding?

In our nomadic society, people fly for work and pleasure, about 1.73 million people per day (this is not new data, because the Department of Transportation is shutdown.) I have at least three family members, that I know of, flying this week. This headline from Time yesterday will make your head snap: ‘We Cannot Even Calculate the Level of Risk.’ Air Traffic Controllers Issue Dire Warnings About Air Safety During the Shutdown.”

Time noted, “Air traffic controllers, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, transportation security and law enforcement officers, safety inspectors, air marshals and FBI agents have all been caught up in the shutdown, leaving airports understaffed and raising questions about the current safety of the nation’s aviation system, according to the joint statement from National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi, Air Line Pilots Association President Joe DePete and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson. UPDATE January 25, 2019. As of this morning, three airports are on ground stops due to inadequate staffing, Newark, Philadelphia, and LaGuardia (New York).

Do I have your attention yet? If you have a bomb shelter in your backyard leftover from the Cold War, perhaps now is the time to head out. All of this is unsettling and scary, regardless of where we sit in life. What can we mere mortals do?

Yesterday I read an excellent commentary in Sojourners by Adam Taylor, who is the editor. I know American Christianity hasn’t won any popularity contests recently, but before you run screaming from the room, I challenge you to read his article here. Whether you regard Jesus as your Savior or a prophet, let’s think about his example. The most obvious call to action for people of faith is prayer. That not your bag? The article suggests you call, write, visit those folks who represent you in Congress. Here’s the link to find your person in the House. And yes, here’s the handy-dandy link to find your Senators.

Many non-faith organizations have stepped up from retail chains to famous chefs. Most communities have non-profits dedicated to food and housing security.

The real crux of Taylor’s article is that we as Americans have a long history of rising to a challenge. Remembering the Serenity Prayer, what we can control is helping our neighbors in need. This is and has always been, the crux of the American story. I’m not ready to give up on us yet.

Disclaimer: This article is not about the politics that got us here. I have an immense anger about what I see as the problem. This essay is not about that. Please let your comments reflect what I have written.

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