Don't Shut Up About the Shutdown

Julia Coccaro

800,000 government employees. 420,000 of them working without pay. The current partial government shutdown implemented by the Trump administration has become the longest in American history, surpassing the 21-day shutdown in 1995-1996. As I write this, it has been exactly one month, with no signs of ending anytime soon.

A partial government shutdown is exactly what it sounds like: federal agencies/programs deemed non-essential are no longer funded. A shutdown usually occurs when there is a delay in the approval of the federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. It remains in effect until both parties can compromise and the budget bill passes. Unfortunately, practically all of these programs that are affected are, in fact, quite essential. Airport security (TSA), museums and parks, food inspections, science and research, federal law enforcement, and the IRS are among these agencies. In many cases — especially the aforementioned furloughed workers — employees are quitting their jobs due to financial hardship. Some organizations may stay open due to cash reserves, but once they are depleted, they are forced to close.

The first government shutdown was in 1879, when former Confederate Democrats in Congress refused to fund the government unless protections for black voters were eliminated. In 1861, almost all of the Southerners in Congress surrendered their seats to go fight in the war as Confederates; however, they slowly started gaining their seats back after they lost the war. At the time, African-American men were allowed to vote, but they tended to vote Republican. Thus, Democrats went to great lengths to minimize the voting of that demographic. Sometimes, it resulted in violence at the polls and the government would send troops. Nineteenth-century Democrats hated this, so when they gained control of Congress 14 years after the Civil War, they came up with the idea of a government shutdown. However, this, and all of the shutdowns until 1980, did not lead to furloughed employees. Regardless, the principle of holding the country’s economy hostage is the same.

The shutdown in 1980, which lasted only a day, was significantly less costly than its successors. In 1981, 1984, and 1986, the cost of shutdowns was each no less than $60 million and as high as $90 million. However, unlike the shutdown in 1995-1996 and the one we are currently experiencing, they were short-lived; none of those shutdowns lasted for more than a day and a half. The subsequent shutdown in 1990 over tax increases lasted two days. The shutdowns that previously held the record for being the longest in history between 1995 to 1996 were due to a wide range of issues, including Medicare, public health, and the environment. The shutdown in 2013 was quite long as well, spanning over 16 days over the funding of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, costing over $2.1 billion. The only shutdown since then, similar to the one currently, was centered around immigration and lasted three days. Republicans refused to pass bills funding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which allows some individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit.     

While every government shutdown is incredibly harmful, the events of this current shutdown are the most unmistakably catastrophic and devastating in history. Ironically, it is regarding obtaining funding for building a wall on the southern border, an issue that the majority of Americans — 54% — oppose. While the current plight of federal workers may be ignored by the administration, it is certainly not ignored by the American people. A central Texas food bank is supplying federal employees with food. Several organizations are providing loans to Coast Guard service members. Various restaurants across the country are giving out free meals to those affected. If you are interested in helping, too, there are several opportunities in which you can make an impact. You can visit the Masbia Soup Kitchen, which has a few locations in Brooklyn. You can donate to the GoFundMe Government Shutdown Direct Relief fund. You can call your representatives and convey your thoughts. No matter how impactful the shutdown is toward Americans, you — and I — can do our best to support the admirable citizens who protect us and serve our country.