Federal Government Shutdown Having Major, Immediate, Widespread Effect On Maine
In the days leading up to the federal government shutdown, some of Maine’s Congressional members warned constituents of the approaching crisis, with Rep. Chellie Pingree stating that the September 29 vote by the House GOP linking the budget to removing funding for provisions of the Affordable Care Act was “a reckless and irresponsible move on the part of House Republicans that has taken us one step closer to a government shutdown”.The Congresswoman also set up a web page (“Government Shutdown FAQ”), describing the potential effect on federal agencies and programs, if such a shutdown were to occur.
The nation watched and waited, as the efforts for a “clean continuing resolution” or a “CR” went back and forth between the two chambers in DC, with House Republicans refusing to allow a clean CR to come up for a vote in their chamber and the Senate Democrats voting down each and every House-passed CR with ACA-defunding provisions attached to it. Inevitably, America went into its first federal shutdown in seventeen years, as of midnight on October 1, with an estimated 800,000 workers nationwide immediately furloughed.
Here in Maine, experts announced that there could be “profound effects on businesses” from a prolonged shutdown for the state.
Maine Democratic leaders, who had faced similar gridlock and a potential shutdown locally earlier this year but managed to come together with enough Republicans to avert that situation by overriding Governor LePage’s budget veto (LD 1509) for our state were quick to respond:
“As lawmakers it is always our job to make sure government works for the people. We should question the motives behind those who work against us. The fact that one small group from one political party is blackmailing the rest of the country is shameful,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. “Because of their actions, here in Maine, some folks will be prevented from moving forward with their home loans, thousands will lose their paycheck, and scores of businesses will be put on hold until this mess is cleaned up. I’m proud that in the Maine Legislature, we don’t behave that way. We show up and do our job—even when we disagree.”
“The people of Maine and millions of Americans across the country woke up shaking our heads this morning,”said Speaker of the House Mark Eves. “We are tired of Tea Party politicians who are more interested in running our government into the ground than making it work. Now, more than ever, we must collaborate to move our state and country forward. Democrats are committed to doing so as we head into the next legislative session.”
But when it was Governor LePage’s turn to respond, he minimized the effect of the Tea Party fueled shutdown with the following statement and mention of 280 furloughed federal employees:
“Although some positions and programs in state agencies are federally funded, all functions of state government will proceed as normal through the end of the week,” Governor LePage said. “The shutdown of the federal government is a result of the failure of leadership in Washington, D.C. A short-term shutdown won’t impact the operation of Maine state government. But if the shutdown continues for an extended period, then it could affect some state agencies. With the politicians constantly fighting over the budget, sequestration and the debt ceiling, in addition to $17 trillion in national debt, we cannot rely on the federal government to pay for public assistance programs or state services for Maine people.”
It has now been a week. Let’s examine the numbers of those directly affected here in Maine, shall we?
- More than 200 federal employees at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor.
- 280 immediately furloughed Maine Army National Guardsmen. Scratch that; try 400.
- 44 more administrative Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management employees in Maine.
- 56 SSDI health workers, with 52 of them, being the entire staff of the Disability Determination office in Winthrop.
- “Thousands” of state employees”, possibly by the end of this week.
- Potentially more than 500 employees of Defense Finance and Accounting Services in Limestone.
- 1500 workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard were furloughed last week, with some now returning to work. As many as 2800 received furlough notices.
More layoffs, as provided by Maine AFL-CIO via press release last week:
- In Cutler, 12 workers at the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station are locked out of their jobs.
- In Limestone, over 500 workers are still working but may be sent home without pay within days.
- In Bangor and Portland, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists who inspect the planes we all fly on to ensure safety have been told not to come in, and others that are deemed essential are working without pay.
- Across the state, OSHA inspectors who keep workplaces safe for all Maine workers are wondering when their next paycheck may be and how they will pay their bills.
- In Augusta, workers who process veteran benefits at Togus in the VBA will likely be sent home within days.
- In Kittery, thousands of workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are out of work and more are working but unsure if they will be paid.
- In Bangor and Portland, Air Traffic Controllers are working without pay.
Today Rep. Pingree’s office announced that nearly 10,000 VA workers have been furloughed nationwide. It remains to be seen what effect this announcement will mean on those workers at Togus or the veterans receiving care. Her statement:
“The shutdown has already slowed down the claims process and these furloughs can only make things worse. For veterans who have been waiting months or even years for the benefits they deserve, that’s outrageous,” Pingree said. “This is the latest example of the real pain that the shutdown is causing to families all across the country. It’s outrageous that Republican leaders are keeping the government closed because of their obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act, and now veterans are paying the price. The VA has made it clear that if the shutdown goes into late October there could be a delay in disability payments,” Pingree said. “That would be a real hardship for veterans and their families. Not only is this a hardship for veterans, but also for the men and women at the VA who work every day to process claims for our veterans.”
A new study in today’s Bangor Daily News shows that the effects of the shutdown are hitting Maine especially hard, due to our large number of veterans and elderly population:
The study, put out by the website WalletHub, says Virginia is the state most affected by the shutdown. Makes sense. Washington, D.C., ranks fourth on the list. Makes sense, too. But that’s just one spot ahead of Maine. Maryland — home to numerous federal offices and federal workers — is sixth, one slot behind Maine.
So why does a shutdown hit Maine harder than it hits Maryland? It’s not because Maine is home to a disproportionately high number of furloughed federal employees — though the state has its share. Rather, it’s the state’s high concentration of seniors and veterans, its businesses’ dependence on loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the role real estate plays in the state economy.
We now enter Week #2 of the shutdown, with no end in sight.