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Despite Hype, Gov't Shut-Down Impact Is Minimal
Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert
Washington , DC
Tuesday, January 08, 2019



Despite Hype, Government Shut-Down Impact Is Minimal For Now

By Peggy Sands Orchowski

Since Dec. 22, headlines have declared that the federal government has been shut down.  This after President Trump refused to sign a final authorizing bill after House Democrats refused to include in it his request for $5 billion for a border wall.  Americans are said to be "fearful"  "frightened" "angry" "demoralized" and "panicked". 

But reader beware. There's a lot of hype in the media  - for the usual political and commercial reasons of course. The facts show a different story than panic.

First this government shutdown is in fact a partial closure of less than 25% of government departments whose budgets had not yet been approved as of Dec. 21, 2018.  Officially over 75 percent of government agencies were fully funded by Dec. 21.  

Millions of federal employees are being and will be paid on time throughout the country. Their agency budgets are secure until September 2019.  All of the operations of the Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor and Veterans Affairs departments "continue unimpeded" (as the VA puts it on its web site).

In addition, U.S. tax payers will continue to receive social security checks and tax refunds.  All federal postal workers and post offices are funded.

But the payroll allocations for employees in other agencies including Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State and Transportation as well as for all of their sub-entities and the Presidential Executive Administrative Office were not approved.  Their full time employees may not receive checks on the first payday of the new year January 11, although it is expected all will receive back-pay once a funding bill is passed.

None of these departments are truly shut down however.  In every agency, some employees are ordered to come to work while others not. In government shutdowns, a distinction is made between "essential" functions -- those jobs where absences would risk lives, or government or economic stability –and "non-essential".  Employees deemed to be doing "essential jobs" are ordered to work "and the non-essential" are officially "furloughed".  None receive a paycheck till the department is funded, but furloughed employees can apply for unemployment benefits. 

Agencies vary widely in their percentage of essential and non-essential employees.  For instance, of the 245,000 employees in the Department of Homeland Security, nearly 213,000 have been deemed essential, according to the department's contingency plan.  That means 87 percent of the DHLS is still working and only 13 percent have been furloughed.

In the Transportation Department, only 37 percent of employees have been furloughed, 63% are at work.  Almost all of the Federal Aviation and Federal Highway Administration employees are considered to be doing essential work and have been ordered to stay on the job.

On the other hand 95.6 percent of the jobs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development are considered to be "non-essential" and almost all HUD employees were furloughed, according to Reuters NewsAgency. Public and tribal housing authorities however are not affected since they are not federal.

A majority of jobs (61%) in the Executive Office of the President also are considered to be non-essential. Most of the Office of Management and Budget employees who help implement budget and policy goals have been furloughed.  

Federal courts have remained open, but certain civil cases have been put on hold.

The National Park Service jobs are almost all considered to be non-essential.  Some park services however are being maintained by volunteers, using entrance fees to pay for expenses

Many workers in jobs considered to be "non-essential" may find it frustrating, even embarrassing and demeaning to be furloughed and told not to come to work.  On the other hand, it is assumed they will receive full back pay; they got the entire holidays between Dec. 22 and Jan 2 off without having to count them as vacation time, and some retailer gave them special discounts. Most can receive un-employment payments and assume their jobs will be continued.

Common sense dictates that inevitably, all government agencies will be fully funded and monies to build some kind of a border barrier will be found. To date the partial closure of a few federal departments over the holidays and some full time federal workers pay delayed, has had low public impact, albeit generating a lot of heat and speculation of doom in the media.  Similarly President Trump seems to be having trouble convincing Democratic leaders of the urgency for a border wall.

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“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been”. Vice President of the Brookings Institution Darrell West wrote in recommending Peggy Sands Orchowski’s books   "The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965" and  "Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 and 2008 respectively).  Peggy is a credentialed Senior Congressional journalist in Washington DC. She is available for interviews, article assignments and speaking engagements about immigration   porchowski@hotmail.com

Peggy Sands Orchowski
Senior Congressional Correspondent
Washington, DC
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