Crash safety to craft beer: Shutdown impacts Americans in surprising ways
Furloughed federal employees turn to improv classes during government shutdown at Washington Improv Theater. USA TODAY
Mike Yohannes has run a food stand in downtown Washington for the past 20 years, surviving economic downturns while selling hot dogs, candy bars and an assortment of other edible items.
But the latest government shutdown could be the death knell for his business.
Foot traffic is markedly down at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 11th Street where he operates, and Yohannes said sales have fallen about 60 percent during the closure, which has affected nearby federal offices, museums and other tourist spots.
“Business is very, very bad,” said Johannes, adding that he pays about $525 in license and other fees every three months, besides food costs. “If it continues like this another two, three months, I’m looking at another job.”
While President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders haggle over his demand for $5.7 billion to fund a southern border wall – both sides went on national TV to argue their case Tuesday night – millions of Americans increasingly feel the impact of the impasse.
The effects are especially detrimental to folks in the area around Yohannes’ stand, where merchants have been hammered by the partial shutdown.
Within a few blocks are the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service and the Commerce and Justice Departments, which furloughed tens of thousands of federal employees or required many to work without pay.
At Nordstrom Rack on E Street, 10 or more customers are typically lined up at the checkout register around midday as federal workers stop in during their lunch hour. There was no line Tuesday, and manager Mary Alvarez said a drop in sales of roughly 25 percent during the closure has forced the layoff of five or six workers.
“January is normally a slow month, but with the shutdown it’s double,” Alvarez said. “We’re struggling to hold onto our employees.”
Several blocks away, the Eye Street Grill shares a building with the Federal Aviation Administration, which has furloughed about 18,000 nonessential employees since Dec. 22. Restaurant owners Yang Soon Kim and husband Il hawn Kim were already reeling from the usual holiday slowdown, but the minimal traffic at the usually bustling buffet line for breakfast and lunch heightened their concerns.
They’re thankful the Department of Veterans Affairs across the street remains open.
“If the VA closed, we’d be almost dead," she said.
Outside the nation’s capital, the shutdown’s most obvious impact has come in the form of trash pileups and overflowing toilets at national parks, where bathrooms have been closed and garbage is not getting picked up. Tuesday, Joshua Tree National Park in California said it would close down Thursday morning to address maintenance issues.
Security lines are getting longer at airports hampered by record numbers of Transportation Security Administration employees calling in sick.
Averting a massive outcry, the Trump administration announced Monday that tax refunds would be issued even if the shutdown lasts into the filing season, which begins Jan. 28 this year.
Federal employees are scheduled to begin missing paychecks this week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said of the closure, “In another context, we would call that an act of kidnapping or terrorism. … This is devastating to morale and devastating to efficiency.’’
Americans feel the impact in a number of ways as the Departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Transportation, Justice, Interior, State, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development have temporarily closed their doors.
•Accidents such as last week’s horrific crash in Florida that killed seven people – five of them children on the way to Disney World – are not being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, whose employees are mostly on furlough.
Accident investigators rely on the NTSB’s reconstruction efforts to pinpoint the cause, and those findings are used to recommend safety improvements on the nation’s highways.
•The U.S. Department of Agriculture will delay the release of crucial crop reports that investors and farmers rely on to get a sense for what the agricultural market will look like in the upcoming season.
The USDA runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and there was concern the benefit commonly known as food stamps would be affected by the shutdown, but the agency announced Tuesday that the 44 million recipients could count on them at least through February.
•Members of Native American tribes may have their health care and education programs threatened by the shutdown. Those services were guaranteed by the federal government as part of treaties in exchange for large extensions of land, but The New York Times reported that the Bureau of Indian Affairs furloughed 2,295 of its 4,057 employees, curtailing service.
•The Smithsonian Institution, which welcomed 30 million visitors in 2017 and includes the National Zoo in Washington, has temporarily closed. The Smithsonian – a cultural treasure with free admission – is composed of 19 museums and the zoo, mostly in the nation’s capital but including two in New York.
•The courts that review the cases of undocumented immigrants will see their backlog increase because more than 300 judges have been furloughed. Current cases of detained immigrants will continue as scheduled, but future ones will be delayed, possibly for years.
•While access to national parks is curtailed, dozens of weddings planned for those sites had to be relocated or rescheduled.
•Fans of creative craft beers will have to settle for their current choices for a while, because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has ceased operations during the shutdown, meaning no new labels will get approved until the folks in Washington reach a deal.
Could a new beer summit be in the offing? Don’t hold your breath.
Contributing: Deborah Berry, Trevor Hughes, Kristin Lam