“Manufactured crisis” halts pay for 3,450 working Nevadans

By: - January 3, 2019 5:52 am
Trump trash

Trash overflowing at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, photographed and Tweeted Wednesday by furloughed Interior employee Daniel Patterson.

When Daniel Patterson, who lives in Nevada and works for the Department of Interior, heard about a potential government shutdown last month, he figured lawmakers and President Trump would come up with a solution to continuing funding the government. He was wrong.

Trump, who has declared he is “proud to shut down the government,” declined to sign a continuing resolution in December, which would have funded the government two more months, because it lacked a $5 billion budget line for a border wall. When Democrats are sworn in to control of the House today, they are scheduled to pass legislation to reopen the government. It will not include funding for Trump’s wall, and Trump has dug in his heels on this, his favorite issue.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared that despite the Senate’s earlier passage of funding measure that did not include money for the wall, he will not allow any vote to come up in the Senate unless Trump supports it.

In other words, no immediate end to the shutdown is in sight, though Trump and Democrats are reportedly expected to meet again Friday.

Of nearly 20,000 federal employees in Nevada, about 11,500 are civilian employees — working in everything from Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

In Nevada, Patterson is among an estimated 3,450 federal workers who have either been furloughed or required to work without a paycheck.

“This causes a lot of anxiety for my family,” the furloughed Patterson says. “I’m lucky because in general I’m pretty frugal and made an effort to save some money.”

He knows not every federal employee is able to do that. “Some federal workers don’t make enough,” he adds. “I worry about my colleagues who have different, lower income jobs. I can’t imagine the stress this puts on single parents.”

Approximately 800,000 employees nationally are affected by the shutdown, according to the American Federation of Government Employees. Some 480,000 are required to go to work not knowing when they will get paid, while another 320,000 are furloughed until the shutdown is over.

The organization says the 16-day government shutdown of 2013 costs taxpayers $24 billion and prevented funding for anything from Head Start programs, which provide early childhood education to low-income children, to inspections at Environmental Protection Agency sites.

“Part of me fears this could drag on for way too long and we’ll see some very negative consequences,” Patterson says.

For one, Patterson says having federal workers out of work isn’t good for the economy. “I know I’m not going out to spend extra money, and neither are my colleagues,” he says. “For rural parts of Nevada who have (federal) employees, that’s an important part of their economy.”

Already, the shutdown is taking a toll on public lands. Patterson has seen an increase of trash piling up, which he says “puts these special places in jeopardy.”

Tribal communities often rely on federal funding to keep services such as health clinics afloat.

For urban ones like Reno Sparks Indian Colony, one of the 27 tribal communities in Nevada, they might have the financial footing to temporarily endure. “We are financially independent enough to cover any gaps 12 days in,” says Stacey Montooth, a spokeswoman with the tribe. “There is enough in the general fund right now to keep the lights still on. We are in a unique situation.”

Its health center has two federal employees on staff who can continue to get paid out of the tribe’s general fund — Montooth says they are also able to keep the Head Start program going for the time being. “If this shutdown makes it to 30 days, that’s when we will have to get everybody in a room to start to strategize long term,” she adds.

Montooth says it is the rural tribal communities, which might not have the economic backing, that might be experiencing hardship.

Funding the government, and whether it would include Trump’s demand for border wall funding, was punted to the next Congress, which will be sworn in today.

“Democrats have a solution to reopen the government with the already passed, bipartisan Senate bills,” U.S. Rep. Dina Titus said on Twitter. “Trump says he prefers to keep the government closed.”

She added that “real people are hurting because of the stubbornness of one man.”

“Thousands of federal workers in Nevada, our tribal communities, and working families are paying the price for the Trump shutdown,” said U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in a statement. “Rather than working in a bipartisan way, this President has taken us down the path of yet another manufactured crisis. President Trump must stop governing by chaos and work with Congress to reopen the government.”

The shutdown does not apply to the military. The federal agency with the most civilian workers in Nevada is Veterans Affairs, with more than 4,700 employees. They are not affected because Congress passed, and the president signed, legislation to fund VA through 2019.

But the longer the shutdown goes on, the more the consequences will spread beyond trash blowing around on federal land and government workers anxious over whether and when they will be made whole. A prolonged shutdown threatens to hurt low-income people in particular. For instance, states will not receive additional allocations for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program without new legislation or a continuing resolution.

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.