Government shutdown/Wall controversy affects $800K workers and their families:JSC workers furloughed locally

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Government shutdown/Wall controversy affects $800K workers and their families:JSC workers furloughed locally

Used with permission by unsplash.com

Used with permission by unsplash.com

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Used with permission by unsplash.com

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Used with permission by unsplash.com

Morgan Severson, Editor

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In the wake of a partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump has members of the government at a standstill over the decision of the five-billion-dollar boarder wall he promised during his campaign. About 25 percent of the federal government is shut down and is affecting over 30 departments such as The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), National Parks and Museums, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and more.

Additionally, around 3,000 NASA employees in the CCISD area are working without pay or are not working at all. CCISD as well as other school districts around the country have made accommodations in order to be considerate of the students whose parents or guardians are not being paid. Over 800,000 employees in the shutdown departments have missed a paycheck. However, The House of Representativespassed a bill (with a vote of 411 to seven) on January 11, that guarantees payback to the federal employees that have been furloughed.

The shutdown started on December 21, 2018 and has no end in sight, making it the longest government shutdown in American history. Trump’s shutdown has surpassed former President Bill Clinton’s 21-day shutdown from December 16, 1995 to January 5, 1996.

On Thursday, January 10 President Trump traveled to the Texas-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas where he met with border patrol agents to discuss border security. The White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that last year around 4,000 terrorists attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border as a reason to validate building a border wall. However, according to a CNNfact check, the 4,000 terrorists number was a statistic from 2017 and the White House briefing was referring to stops made around the globe, mainly at airports by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“The [DHS’] press secretary released that same 3,755 figures, ignoring where those suspected terrorists were actually stopped. This claim does not stand up to the facts and repeating it does not make it anymore true,” Jim Sciutto, a CNN reporter on the white house’s misleading claim, said.

In fact, approximately 300 terrorists attempted to travel across the border while nearly 3,000 terrorists entered the US on airplanes with approved visas to enter the country. The President threatened to declare a National Emergency, calling the state of US border security a “crisis.” Congress is at an impasse on a decision on what to do for security at the southern border. Both Democrats and Republicans want tighter border security, but Trump refuses to sign a bill that does not include a wall. Both parties seem to be firmly against the other and negotiations between the parties are at a standstill. During the weekend of January 11, no meetings or appearances were scheduled by the White House.

“How does it end? It has to end with the government running and functioning. It has to end with us setting back up the government — it will not with a wall. It will not end with a wall,” Kamala Harris, Democratic Senator for California, said about the shutdown.

On January 9, President Trump met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer but walked out after they told him that their negotiations do not contain plans for a wall. Trump confirmed this in a tweet, saying that after Pelosi said “NO” to the wall, he said “bye-bye.” According to CNBC, when Schumer asked the president to reopen the government so federal workers can get paid, Trump replied “no, because then you won’t give me what I want.”

As reported by Fortune, the wall is unpopular among 69 percent of Americans. If the government shutdown is mainly over the wall, the President has caused thousands of employees to go unpaid to please his base, a small percentage of Americans. Trump proposed withholding funds from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and use that money to build the wall. This would include stopping funds to help victims of the California wildfires and Hurricane Harvey. This idea has proved to be was an unpopular idea among Democrats and Republicans alike. Additionally, Trump was questioning whether he had the authority to withhold FEMA funds in the first place.

“So, the President is now talking to his lawyers about whether he would have the authority to issue a national emergency and reprogram money that’s been allocated for other purposes, but I will tell you that I will oppose any reprogramming of Harvey disaster funds. We worked very hard to make sure that the victims of Hurricane Harvey — their concerns are addressed, and Texas is able to rebuild. And I think we are all together on that,” John Cornyn, Republican Senator from Texas, said.

The shutdown is affecting Americans in numerous ways from transportation to where the next meal is coming from. The TSA is one of the biggest departments effected by the shutdown and is an essential part of Homeland Security. So many TSA members have called off work, several airports around the country have closed terminals or closed completely. In Houston, Terminal B at George Bush Intercontinental Airport was closed until further notice due to a staff shortage. Without a sufficient amount of staff at airports, traveling by airplane could be a long and dangerous process. A passenger flying on Delta Airlines in Atlanta, Georgia was able to get through security with a gun in their carryon bag. According to the TSA, it was not due to understaffing but due to proper procedures not being followed by employees. Most TSA employees either called in sick or are working 40-hour weeks without pay. The airports also asked its customers to come earlier for their flights than normal to make up for staff shortages.

The FDA has over 40 percent of its employees furloughed meaning that it suspended all of its routine food inspections. This is concerning because foods like Romaine lettuce are not being check for E. Coli. The shutdown is also affecting recipients of food stamps. The USDA asked that citizens that use food stamps request their February food stamps before January 20, to ensure that they get them before funds run out. The top three states that rely on food stamps are California, Texas and Florida, while approximately one out of ten families rely on food stamps in America.

Since the Coast Guard is a part of homeland security, its members have stopped getting paid since the shutdown. About 42,000 Coast Guard members are working without pay and according to the Former Coast Guard Commandant, Thad Allen, the Coast Guard is still continuing their operations from searches and rescues to stopping drug smugglers.

“I think it’s pretty bad. I think when you have people providing emergency services to this country without pay, I think we ought to take a serious look at how we’re governed,” Allen said.

Locally, the government shutdown is affecting the Houston area by making thousands of NASA employees furloughed. Not only is the shutdown putting a halt to the employees’ paychecks, but to their research as well. Observatories shut down and the Hubble Space Telescope needs repairs that can only be made by furloughed employees. Additionally, many NASA employees were unable to present or attend the 233 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, also known as the “Super Bowl of Astronomy.” According to Space.com, the AAS is the largest gathering of astronomers and astrophysicists and NASA employees had to have their partners not employed by NASA to present in their absence.

On January 15, a small protest outbroke in front of the Johnson Space Center Houston (JSC) as furloughed employees rallied to show their disapproval of the shutdown. Some of the signs at the protests read “I have my dream job…please let me do it,” or “will science 4 food.” The government shutdown is causing economic struggles for NASA and many other unpaid employees, as many Americans live “paycheck to paycheck.” An anonymous NASA engineer started a GoFundMe to help federal workers pay their bills and it raised around 3,500 dollars as of January 15. Additionally, JSC Federal Credit Union is offering loans with no interest for workers affected by the shutdown. Local restaurants, like D’Amico’s Italian Market Cafe, Bistro Provence, Ouisie’s Table and the Rainbow Lodge are serving free meals to struggling employees. The Republican senate representative from Sugarland, Pete Olson, filed a bill in on January 15 that lets unpaid federal workers take from their retirement without penalization. However, the bill has not been approved by Congress yet.

The protesters outside of NASA received many different responses from the public, some passersby honked or cheered in support while others yelled, “get a job” or “secure the border.” It is clear that Americans are just as divided about the decision of the border wall as the government is. But is a stalemate between Congress and the President worth putting the lives of ordinary Americans at risk?

 

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