Shutdown impact could intensify as political stalemate pushes into week 3
Union leaders representing at least 7,000 federal workers in Western Pennsylvania have started asking credit unions and mortgage companies to cut furloughed employees a break as the partial government shutdown continues to stretch their dollars.
Workers could miss their next paycheck if the government doesn’t open by Friday, said Philip Glover, national vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees, one of the largest unions for federal workers.
“There’s just a lot of anxiety, frustration. And people are fed up,” said Glover, whose district represents about 31,000 workers in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
As the shutdown stretches into a third week, those who don’t rely on the federal government for a paycheck could start to feel the impact, too.
In Westmoreland County, payments on two federal grants could be delayed, said Meghan McCandless, Westmoreland County director of financial administration. One is a Homeland Security grant for the county Hazardous Materials Response Team and the other funds salaries and benefits for the director of Public Safety and its strategic planning and grants coordinator.
Funding disbursed to the Blackburn Center through the Violence Against Women Act also has been put on hold until Congress passes an appropriations bill, McCandless said.
Allegheny County operations have not yet been impacted, spokeswoman Amie Downs said.
Federal courts, including the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, will operate as usual until Jan. 11 using court fee balances and other funds not dependent on new appropriation. After that, each court and federal defender’s office will determine staffing resources, according to a statement from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
All civil federal cases have been put on hold during the shutdown.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, whose office is handling the prosecution of Robert Bowers, the accused Tree of Life gunman, has said that all assistant U.S. attorneys in the criminal division will work through the shutdown.
Other essential federal services, from Veterans Health Administration hospitals to the National Weather Service to the Postal Service, remain open. The visitor’s center at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County is closed.
Local Farm Service Agencies, which distribute funds from U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to farmers for operations and to purchase land and supplies like equipment or seeds, closed in December. If they don’t reopen, some farmers may not be able to get their crops ready for the spring, said Michael Kovach, vice president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union.
“Folks are kind of aware of it,” Kovach said. “It’s not really directly affecting them right this minute, but it has the potential to be a big drag here in another month.”
Politicians have signaled that the shutdown could last months. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday that President Trump threatened to keep the government shut down for “months or even years.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also said disagreements over border wall funding could be a sticking point that turns the shutdown into a monthslong ordeal.
Some federal workers in Pennsylvania appear to be taking precautions in case the shutdown continues through next week.
Federal employees in Pennsylvania filed 455 initial unemployment compensation claims during the first full week of the shutdown at the end of December, according to data provided by the state Department of Labor and Industry. During that same week in 2017, federal employees in the state filed 48 claims.
Though the data indicate there has been a spike in claims, exactly why it happened isn’t clear, said Lindsay Bracale, deputy communications director for the department. Some may have filed claims for reasons other than shutdown-related furlough.
This is the third shutdown that Pittsburgh resident Rebecca Maclean, a Department of Housing and Urban Development employee, has experienced.
“We do have some savings, and my husband does work, so we’re not as bad off as some other federal employees,” Maclean told CNN on Thursday. “But if this drags on for a while, we’ll be hurting. And that’s not fair.”
Maclean said she applied for unemployment benefits during the shutdown.
“My husband and I decided that it was a good stopgap measure to have just in case we needed it, and I’m thankful that it’s there,” Maclean said. “The only time that I’ve ever applied for unemployment as an adult is when government shutdowns happen.”
Glover, of the American Federation of Government Employees, was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, meeting with lawmakers at their Capitol Hill offices, hoping to persuade them to end the shutdown.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, urged Trump to support efforts that provide funding for border security but not a wall.
“As President Trump’s shutdown goes on, the effects continue to trickle down to everyday families,” Casey said in a statement.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, said the shutdown is disappointing, especially for furloughed federal employees.
“However, there is a deal to be made, but it requires the White House to negotiate with the speaker of the House and the Senate minority leader. This should not be an impossible feat, given that Democrats have voted in the past for a wall,” Toomey said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, email@example.com or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.