Federal shutdown affected U.S. in ways unseen

In this Oct. 15, 2013, photo, Monique Howard, right, holds Waldo as she laughs with her son Carter after his asthma treatment at their home in Northbrook, Ill. Howard is worried that federal government shutdown might set research for childhood asthma back five or six months. 'It just seems to me like a lot of these studies are going to be scrapped or they will have to restart them,' she said. 'It is just so frustrating as a parent.' (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

In this Oct. 15, 2013, photo, Monique Howard, right, holds Waldo as she laughs with her son Carter after his asthma treatment at their home in Northbrook, Ill. Howard is worried that federal government shutdown might set research for childhood asthma back five or six months. "It just seems to me like a lot of these studies are going to be scrapped or they will have to restart them," she said. "It is just so frustrating as a parent." (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

In this Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, photo, Monique Howard holds Waldo as she caresses her son Carter's head while he sits through his asthma treatment at their Northbrook, Ill., home. On the days when asthma gives Carter the most trouble it reminds her about how doctors at Rush University Medical Center had to stop submitting applications for research grants to study childhood asthma and other diseases and disorders. Hospital officials have said the shutdown could have delayed funding for nearly half a year. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

In this Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, photo, Monique Howard holds Waldo as she caresses her son Carter's head while he sits through his asthma treatment at their Northbrook, Ill., home. On the days when asthma gives Carter the most trouble it reminds her about how doctors at Rush University Medical Center had to stop submitting applications for research grants to study childhood asthma and other diseases and disorders. Hospital officials have said the shutdown could have delayed funding for nearly half a year. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO (AP) — Our food was a little less safe, our workplaces a little more dangerous. The risk of getting sick was a bit higher, our kids' homework tougher to complete.

The federal government shutdown may have seemed like a frustrating squabble in far-off Washington, but it crept into our lives in small, subtle ways — from missed vegetable inspections to inaccessible federal websites.

The "feds" always are there in the background, setting the standards by which we live, providing funds to research cures for our kids' illnesses, watching over our food supply and work environment.

So how did the shutdown alter our daily routines? Here's a look at a day in the life of the 2013 government shutdown.

WAKING UP

That sausage patty on your breakfast plate was safe as ever because meat inspectors — like FBI agents — are considered "essential" and remained at work. But federal workers who inspect just about everything else on your plate — from fresh berries to scrambled eggs — were furloughed.

The Food and Drug Administration, which in fiscal year 2012 conducted more than 21,000 inspections or contracted state agencies to conduct them, put off scores of other inspections at processing plants, dairies and other large food facilities. In all, 976 of the FDA's 1,602 inspectors were sent home.

About 200 planned inspections a week were put off, in addition to more than 8,700 inspections the federal government contracts state officials to perform, according to FDA spokesman Steven Immergut. That included unexpected inspections that keep food processors on their toes.

It worried Yadira Avila, a 34-year-old mother of two buying fruit and vegetables at a Chicago market.

"It's crazy because they (the FDA) sometimes find the bacteria," she said.

The FDA also stopped doing follow-ups on problems it previously detected at, for example, a seafood importer near Los Angeles and a dairy farm in Colorado.

And what about the food that made it to your plate? The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which furloughed 9,000 of its 13,000 workers, said the shutdown slowed its response to an outbreak of salmonella in chicken that sickened people in 18 states.

OFFICE HOURS

At a warehouse, factory or other worksite, a young minority exposed to racial slurs by his boss had one fewer place to turn for help. Federal officials who oversee compliance with discrimination laws and labor practices weren't working, except in emergencies.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was not issuing right-to-sue letters, so people could not take discrimination cases into federal court, said Peter Siegelman, an expert in workplace discrimination at the University of Connecticut's law school.

Workplaces weren't inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. One result? Employees could operate dangerous equipment even if not trained or old enough to do so.

"The afternoon before the shutdown we got a complaint of a restaurant where a ... 14-year-old was operating a vertical dough mixer," said James Yochim, assistant director of the U.S. Department of Labor's wage and hour division office in Springfield, Ill. "We (were) not able to get out there and conduct an investigation."

Yochim's office also put on hold an investigation at another restaurant of children reportedly using a meat slicer.

HOME SAFE

Getting around was largely unaffected. Air traffic controllers were on the job, flights still taking off. Trains operated by local agencies delivered millions of commuters to their jobs.

But if something went wrong, such as the mysterious case of a Chicago "ghost train," people were left in the dark.

On the last day of September, an empty Chicago Transit Authority train somehow rumbled down the tracks and crashed into another train, injuring a few dozen passengers. The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched investigators, and they kept working when the shutdown started the next day because they were "essential." But the agency furloughed others whose job is to explain to the public what happened.

So millions of commuters used the transit lines without knowing more about what caused the crash.

The CDC slashed staffing at quarantine stations at 20 airports and entry points, raising chances travelers could enter the country carrying diseases like measles undetected.

In the first week of the shutdown, the number of illnesses detected dropped by 50 percent, CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said. "Are people suddenly a lot healthier?" she wondered.

STUDY TIME

Children learned the meaning of shutdown when they got home and booted up computers to do homework. From the U.S. Census bureau site to NASA maps, they were greeted by alerts that said government sites were down "due to the shutdown."

Linda Koplin, a math teacher in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, asked her sixth-grade pupils to use a reliable online source to find the highest and lowest elevations.

"They were able to find all the elevations for the rest of the continents but they couldn't find information for their continent," Koplin said.

It was the same at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., where social studies teacher Robin Forrest said government statistics are more important because of so much dubious information on the web.

"We try to steer our kids toward websites and databases that are legitimate, the same way we would college students," he said.

NIGHT, NIGHT

After hours is when the shutdown arrived at many people's homes.

Monique Howard's 5-year-old son, Carter, has the most trouble with his asthma at night, when his breathing is labored. Her family dreams of a cure, the kind doctors are hunting through federally funded research grants at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

During the shutdown, the doctors had to stop submitting grant applications to study childhood asthma and other diseases and disorders. Hospital officials said the shutdown could have delayed funding for nearly half a year.

"I have met some of these doctors who are close to breakthroughs, and if this sets us back five or six months, it just seems to me like a lot of these studies are going to be scrapped or they will have to restart them," Howard said. "It's just so frustrating as a parent."

There was a comedic effect, too. The shutdown might have saved raunchy entertainers from punishment for obscene or offensive language on late-night TV and radio.

The Federal Communications Commission investigates broadcast misbehavior only if viewers or listeners complain. During the shutdown, callers heard a voice with a familiar ring: "The FCC is closed."

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 5

August8 writes:

Now this story is pure BS !!!!!!

26yearsonmarco writes:

Is this not one of the scariest lines you have ever read?????

" The "feds" always are there in the background, setting the standards by which we live".

panola60 writes:

The Real Cost of the Shutdown / ObamaNocare

$745 billion - Obamacare caused 3 out of 4 jobs created in 2013 to be part-time:
$903 billion - Obamacare will cause 12 million people to lose their employer supplied healthcare in 2013 / 2014
$1.1 trillion - 7 million hard working Americans will lose their jobs because of Obamacare in 2013 / 2014
$6.6 trillion - 40 million Medicare recipients will see their benefits cut severely after 2014 /2015
$2.3 trillion - 150 million Americans will see their rates go up by 50% to 250% by 2015
$616 billion - Obamacare transfer of wealth from poor (young people) to rich (older people) in 2013 / 2014

$9 billion - Interest paid on national debt added by Obama ($7 trillion) just during shutdown

MIOCENE (Inactive) writes:

in response to 26yearsonmarco:

Is this not one of the scariest lines you have ever read?????

" The "feds" always are there in the background, setting the standards by which we live".

Not really; when you consider the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act which keeps the worms out of our meat, and the paint out of our capsules; and the fact that mining employers must adhere to certain standards so miners are no longer buried alive in cave-ins like during the 1930's.

The Feds also stand in the way of a landlord or boss throwing someone out because the tenent or worker is Black, Italian, Irish, Gay, Asian, a single mother, etc.

Want more?

You might find it even more scary WITHOUT the Feds.

MIOCENE

August8 writes:

in response to panola60:

The Real Cost of the Shutdown / ObamaNocare

$745 billion - Obamacare caused 3 out of 4 jobs created in 2013 to be part-time:
$903 billion - Obamacare will cause 12 million people to lose their employer supplied healthcare in 2013 / 2014
$1.1 trillion - 7 million hard working Americans will lose their jobs because of Obamacare in 2013 / 2014
$6.6 trillion - 40 million Medicare recipients will see their benefits cut severely after 2014 /2015
$2.3 trillion - 150 million Americans will see their rates go up by 50% to 250% by 2015
$616 billion - Obamacare transfer of wealth from poor (young people) to rich (older people) in 2013 / 2014

$9 billion - Interest paid on national debt added by Obama ($7 trillion) just during shutdown

Just another very good post but again you omitted how he has divided the County by class, race, gender and income.
It will take the American people anothe 100 years to patch that up.

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features