A government shutdown will affect Southwest Florida

Dec. 17, 2018 by David Silverberg

Ding_Darling_Shutdown cropped 12-18-18

Workers at “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island post a sign during the 2013 government shutdown. (Photo from “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.)

Should Congress and the White House fail to reach a funding agreement by a Friday deadline, Southwest Florida will feel the impact.

While the potential shutdown is being called “partial” because some government operations will continue to function, its effect will be felt throughout the country and the world. Southwest Florida will be no exception.

The most recent prolonged government shutdown occurred from Oct. 1st to 16th, 2013 during the administration of President Barack Obama. Congressional Republicans were trying to stop funding for the Affordable Care Act by preventing passage of a continuing resolution (CR) that would have funded the government at the previous year’s level.

At that time in SWFL, the government shutdown closed Everglades National Park, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Business was hurt by delays in real estate closings and loan processing and local farms sufffered as issuance of worker visas came to a halt.

The 2013 shutdown also occurred at the tail end of hurricane season, when federal weather forecasting was most critically needed.

In all, the 2013 shutdown was estimated to have cost the US economy $24 billion. The Republican Party received the bulk of the blame for it and sustained the most political damage as a result.

This year the government shut down between Jan. 20th and 23rd as Democrats and Republicans were unable to agree whether to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issue. Ultimately, both houses of Congress passed a CR that funded the government until the next shutdown, which lasted only a matter of hours, from midnight to the early Feb. 9. Then, President Donald Trump signed the continuing resolution, which both funded the government and raised the debt ceiling. It also provided hurricane relief funding for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, which had been hit by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Analysis

In Southwest Florida, the full impact of a government shutdown will depend on how long it lasts. A brief shutdown, like the one in February, may pass easily but a prolonged shutdown has the potential to affect crucial government functions. Among those are:

  • Social Security. While Social Security was safeguarded in the 2018 shutdowns, the possibility always exists that a lengthy shutdown could impact the program on which many Southwest Floridians depend. According to the Social Security Administration, as of December 2017 (the most recent date for which statistics are available) Lee County had 12,863 Social Security recipients and Collier had 4,169.
  • Disaster relief. People still receiving federal assistance and housing as a result of Hurricane Irma can expect a shutdown of payments and support.
  • Veterans benefits. A prolonged shutdown could impede veterans’ benefits or affect their healthcare at federal facilities, like the Veterans Administration healthcare center in Lee County.
  • Coast Guard and maritime security. While national security and military operations are usually safeguarded from government shutdowns, a prolonged shutdown could affect Coast Guard operations and maritime safety, including search and rescue.
  • National parks, preserves and refuges. As noted above, national installations will be closed as they were in 2013. These closings are likely to be immediate.
  • Business applications, contract closings and federal paperwork. Businesses having any sort of interaction with the federal government will have their dealings delayed or impeded.
  • Mail delivery. As it is, Friday is the deadline for mailing packages for receipt by Christmas. While mail delivery hasn’t been impeded before, a lengthy government shutdown could affect mail delivery, not only for the Christmas season but for those customers dependent on medications, checks or money.
  • Passports and federal documents: There will be no passports issued or federal documents processed during a shutdown.
  • Civil servants. Federal employees will not get paychecks during a shutdown.

In addition to people and institutions directly affected by a government shutdown, there can be severe secondary impacts. A Social Security shutdown could affect businesses that rely on senior spending as well as those receiving rents and mortgage payments. Mail delays can severely impact businesses as can delays in processing applications and paperwork.

Conclusion

During his on-camera debate with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12- Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Dec. 11, President Donald Trump said he would assume responsibility for any government shutdown.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country,” said Trump. “So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.”

“But we believe you shouldn’t shut it down,” replied Schumer.

The dialogue didn’t go much further than that, at least in public view. But as of this writing, it appears that Trump is determined to get at least $5 billion for his border wall (or “boarder” wall, as he put it) and a shutdown is a real possibility. It’s also not entirely clear that he fully understands just what a government shutdown means, despite having caused two earlier ones—or that he cares about the impact on people and the country.

It will be interesting to see if after a shutdown he can retain the support of Southwest Florida seniors who don’t receive their Social Security payments or their mail.

 

 

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