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Closure of Government Agencies Hurts Workers and Country

By Ayla Reading

On December 22, in the wake of the collapse of a spending bill, which was essential to provide for all federal services until February 16, President Donald Trump called a partial government shutdown. He has since said that he is fine with letting it last for “months or even years.” However, the shutdown has serious effects for many federal workers, with systemic effects experienced throughout the entire country.

In September, Trump revoked his agreement to a compromise bill to increase funding for border security, while protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, a priority amongst democrats. By the December 21 deadline for a bipartisan spending bill, nothing had been resolved around protection for young immigrants. Democrats refuse to agree to a bill that does not include funding for DACA. Although both branches of Congress have come close to a compromise, Trump has refused to sign any of these bills. It seems the focal point for Trump is funding for a physical wall, which many see as more a symbol of border security than an actual improvement in it.

With the government suspended, many of the services it provides to people have been discontinued. “The whole point of the government,” Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) employee Tom Konner said, “is to protect little people from rich people.” Throughout a government shutdown, it is the people with less power, or the ones dependent on the government, who are hurt the most, according to Konner.

During the shutdown, positions that are determined essential, such as the military and post services are continuing, but nine out of the 15 government departments have been reduced to negligibility. Others are running on a skeleton staff, meaning that their influence and quality of work is heavily cut back. Thousands of government workers are working without current pay or are furloughed. For these government workers, there is a disconnect: the due date for paychecks are delayed, but for mortgage and rent loans it is not.

One example is the Food and Drug Association (FDA), whose workforce will be cut nearly in half as 40 percent are furloughed. Since all the work cannot be done by 60 percent of the staff, routine inspections of crops and pharmaceutical drugs have ceased. “If it continues, we can expect to see outbreaks of disease,” said doctor Jeanne Nobel.

Additionally, Native American tribes dependant on a government funded food distribution program to eat are one of the most impacted groups within a government shutdown.

The EPA is one agency that is completely closed down. The EPA is responsible for overseeing smaller environmental protection agencies, making sure factories and other companies are not flushing toxins into our water, and municipal utilities districts are making sure our water is bacteria free. “If we’re not watching these companies, then they might let it happen, because it’s expensive for them to keep it clean,” said Konner. Without the system holding them accountable in place, it’s easier to have accidents go unreported and ease up their commitment to public and environmental health. “The utility has to test everyday to make sure there are no contaminants in the water,” said Konner. “They test and then they have to send the test results to us. But now they can’t send the test results to us because we’re not working.”

While the shutdown is damaging for some, many in Berkeley hardly notice the effects. BHS freshman Alvaro Pani Lugo noted cancelling winter break plans to visit Yosemite. Many national parks have been closed down and remains untended due to the decrease in funding. “I just think it’s sad that they had to close down national parks because of the government shutdown,” he said. “I have memories with my parents and my sister doing stuff in the national parks.”

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