Federal Shutdown Translates to Potentially Major Local Impact

The Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge, like all national parks across the country, is unstaffed due to the partial government shutdown. The refuge remains open and visitors are continuing to use the trails. Other federal agencies affected include Customs and Border Patrol. (Facebook photo by Keith Ramos)

By Lura Jackson

On December 22nd, 2018, the federal government entered a partial shutdown when President Trump refused to sign any federal spending measure that did not include $5.6 billion to help fund an expanded barrier between the United States and Mexico. Now the third-longest shutdown to date, if it continues past Saturday, January 12th, it will be the longest in United States history. The impact of the shutdown on Washington County, Maine, has been relatively minor thus far – though that won’t be the case if it continues.

The federal agencies currently left unfunded by the shutdown include Homeland Security, Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, and Transportation. Each of these agencies has taken steps to furlough personnel – temporarily removing them from their positions and their pay – while each also hosts thousands of essential individuals that are required to continue to work without receiving timely pay. In Maine, 1,195 employees work in one of those agencies, including 400 in the interior and 200 each in Homeland Security and Agriculture.

Determining how much of an impact the shutdown has had locally is challenging in part because of its nature. Upon reaching out to the local Customs and Border Patrol office, for example, we were directed to contact the Public Affairs Officer in Boston. The Public Affairs Officer, however, is among those who were furloughed. The local office was unable to comment.

The national parks are also affected by the shutdown. In accordance with its design, the parks are not being staffed but remain open to the public. While that has created havoc elsewhere in the country – particularly in California, where the high number of unsupervised visitors and untended facilities have led to exceptional levels of human waste in the parks – it has been less challenging in parks such as Moosehorn, which does not attract a large number of winter guests.

If the shutdown continues beyond January, the impact on Washington County is anticipated to be extremely significant. As an example, the Department of Agriculture has announced that the continued shutdown would result in it being unable to provide SNAP benefits to low-income families. In Washington County, that amounts to 23.8 percent of all households.

 

In the meantime, prospective tax return filers will have to wait to file their returns – many of which are needed to help offset the high costs of winter living in Maine – until the IRS fully reopens.