January 18, 2019 Blog

Shutdown Shakes-Up the Commonwealth

From our nation’s Capitol to the Commonwealth, constituents are bearing the burden of the longest government shutdown in history. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is nowhere to be found, and President Trump would rather tweet insults instead of solutions.

“I’ll pay you back after I get my paycheck, I just need food now.” These are words of a federal employee at a food center in Washington D.C., where lines are reportedly growing for food assistance. This is a bellwether for what is to come in other areas across the country, where workers are being forced to choose between paying their rent or their medical bills; or in some cases, choosing between paying a mortgage or being able to put food on the table.

Kentucky is home to 6,213 federal workers and last Friday they took home another zero dollar paycheck as GOP Congressional leaders in Kentucky remained silent, and Mitch McConnell went into hiding.

Moreover, the effects of the shutdown go far beyond just government workers in Kentucky. From food in pantries to the produce picked and planted in our pastures, the impact of the shutdown has already shaken parts of Kentucky’s communities. Especially, our farmers who have been counting on trade reparations through the Market Facilitation Program, a lifeline promised to farmers for losses caused by Trump’s trade war.

Because of the shutdown, that too has been put on hold.

Farm groups say that federal crop payments have stopped flowing and farmers can’t look up new government data about beef prices or soybean yields to make decisions about planting and selling during Trump’s turbulent market. The shutdown is also expected to affect the USDA’s implementation of the new 2018 Farm Bill passed in December, which would hamper the ability to get critical funding to farm bill programs that support farmers, rural communities, local and regional food systems, healthy food access and so much more.

The Kentucky Democratic Party reached out to Tonia Casey, she manages Need Line, a food pantry in Calloway County. Casey said the commodity food items she receives from the USDA are stocked until March, but that hasn’t stopped concerns coming from participants in the program.

“Some have asked questions like, will the shut down mean I won’t receive my Food Stamps, what would I do?” Casey said.  “Will this shutdown mean I won’t get my Social Security Check, if so how will I pay my bills and get food? Several have asked if this shut down will cause Need Line to shut down, if so where would we go?”

Clients who would like to call the SNAP benefits program are left hanging because there is no one on the other end to take their call.

Casey said she too has questions because depending on how long the shutdown lasts it could affect Need Line.

“The trickle-down effect could hit the Need Line Commodity program hard. This would not only affect our TEFAP (USDA food program) but also our CSFP (Senior Food Program) – we are talking an average of 800+ families a month right here in Murray and Calloway County.”

Casey said the people she serves come from a variety of backgrounds, with a significant portion 60 years old and up, who are also social security recipients. The other 33 percent she said are considered “working poor” or on some form of disability.

In Fiscal Year 2016, SNAP provided about $98 billion dollars in food benefits to a monthly average of 666,264 people in Kentucky. SNAP also has an economic multiplier effect; every dollar in new SNAP benefits results in $1.80 in total economic activity.

According to Politico states have started distributing SNAP benefits for February, and the shutdown-induced early rollout is coming with a warning: Recipients must budget wisely, reports Pro Ag’s Helena Bottemiller Evich.

The lapse in funding means it could be 40 days — or longer, in some cases — before additional money is added to recipients’ benefit cards. There’s also no guarantee when nearly 39 million low-income Americans will next receive another payment to help them buy groceries.”

A breakdown of aid provided to each Congressional district can be found here.

Frankfort, Kentucky Attorney Margaret O’Donnell represents clients across the state. Not only is she not being paid for her contract work, but she said she can’t speak with state agencies like the Social Security Administration about record requests related to her representation of capital clients.

“I worry about how it is impacting my federal prison clients and hope to find out more this week,” O’Donnell said.

Just like O’Donnell is worried for her clients, Republican leaders in Kentucky should be worried about their constituents, yet they say nothing.

President Donald Trump loves to win, but his one-man stand with the federal government is our country’s loss and as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sits silently, his home state is filing with fear.

Other areas affected by the shutdown include:

  • FDA Food Inspections: The FDA announced Tuesday that it’s bringing back 400 furloughed workers to re-open some food inspections along with other operations. Just one of many agencies calling employees back to work without pay, including airplane inspectors and potentially 46,000 IRS workers needed when tax season begins Jan. 28.
  • 6 million face an uncertain timetable for collecting tax refunds
  • EPA factory/power plant inspections
  • FAA Safety Checks
  • Small Business Administration loans
  • Subsidies for farmers hit by the trade war
  • SEC applications for companies to go public
  • Shuttered parks and museums while overstressed airports cause tourism to tank
  • Federal court system slowed drastically
  • Immigration court hearings on hold, with average 3 year wait currently
  • Disaster relief money doesn’t get to storm-ravaged areas