Homeowners potentially losing financial assistance from the federal government after their homes were destroyed during historic wildfires, fewer Transportation Safety Administration agents on duty at Los Angeles International Airport and a national park closing down temporarily are some of the after-effects brought on by the longest federal government shutdown on record.
Now in its third week, with more than 800,000 federal workers not receiving paychecks, President Donald Trump engineered the partial government shutdown after House Democrats refused to give him $5.7 billion for his controversial wall plan at the southern border with Mexico.
The biggest bombshell dropped on Jan. 9 when Trump threatened in a tweet that he would direct the Federal Emergency Management Administration to withhold funds from California unless state leaders “get their act together, which is unlikely.”
After visiting the state to see the destruction wrought by the Woolsey and Camp fires last year and falsely suggesting the fires were due to improper forest management practices — even implying falsely at one point that raking the forest’s floor would help prevent the historic blazes — Trump claimed Finland’s prime minster, who later denied saying anything about raking a forest, had recommended raking.
Thousands of Californians who lost their residences would be denied aid and assistance for businesses and eligible firefighting costs also would be taken off the table if Trump follows through on his threat.
The president’s tweet drew sharp rebukes from state Democrats and local Republican officials representing the towns that were hit hardest by the fires.
And on Jan. 11, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) said he had been told by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the Trump administration was now eyeing funding from state water and infrastructure projects that he might try to divert to building his border wall.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Culver City), the new head of the Congressional Black Caucus, slammed Trump for creating what she called a false emergency situation and a diversion from the probes that House Democrats plan to launch, as well as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“This shutdown and the whole issue of the wall is a fake crisis,” Bass said during a conference call with reporters on Jan. 11. “At the end of the day, even if he had all the money, it would still take eminent domain to build his wall. That process will take years. This is further evidence that this is a fake crisis and, in my opinion, just an attempt to change our attention away from the numerous impending investigations.”
The physical toll that the shutdown of the national government has taken on national parks is beginning to vividly appear, but the health risks from refuse barrels that have gone without emptied and overflowing toilets may be harder to measure.
National Park Service officials were slated to close Joshua Tree National Park, north of Palm Springs, which has remained open during the government closure, on Jan. 10 due to damage to the park by visitors during the government shutdown but at the last minute they decided to tap Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement funds to keep the park open.
“Stagnant water in unused toilets that have not been flushed for weeks can become a significant area for mosquito breeding. Refuse bins, containing accumulated wastes, can be a source of fly breeding. This condition also attracts other insects, birds, rodents and other wildlife,” say scientists at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “Organic wastes in these bins can be a food source for rodents, which can carry fleas infected with the bacteria or viruses that can cause diseases. Unchecked, these conditions could have an impact on public health.”
In Utah, the annual Winter Steam Festival became a casualty of the partial shutdown. The festival celebrates the site of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.
At LAX, TSA workers have been working without pay since December, handing an anticipated record number of travelers at the airport.
LAX officials did not return calls and inquiries regarding the number of TSA agents at the airport during the shutdown.
To assist federal employees who will miss their paychecks during the time the government is partially closed, Santa Monica–based PCIHIPAA, a HIPAA compliance company, has established a $10,000 shutdown fund to help them during the shutdown. (HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a federal law that safeguards patient medical information.)
“Innocent people are being harmed. It's not right, and it's not the American way. Our company wants to help those in serious need, so we decided to establish a shutdown fund,” said PCIHIPPA CEO Jeff Broudy.
During the 2013 federal shutdown, the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into a deadly Sept. 29 single-plane crash at Santa Monica Airport was delayed by work furloughs.
In a letter to then–Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica), NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman wrote that the agency was forced to halt its probe of the Cessna Citation 525A crash that killed four people. “The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched an investigator shortly after learning about the accident. As you know, this occurred just days before the government shutdown,” Hersman wrote to Waxman on Nov. 15.
“Our investigator remained on-scene to collect the perishable evidence, including interviewing witnesses, then was placed in furlough status until funding resumed. I believe that safety has been compromised by stopping this investigation and many others, not to mention the accidents that occurred that we did not launch during the shutdown,” Hersman continued.
A major freeway crash in Gainesville, Florida, also is feeling the impact of the shutdown, with NTSB investigators unable to assist local officials in investigating the Jan. 3 crash, which killed seven people.
The current government shutdown could exceed $100 million a day for the U.S. economy, according to a preliminary calculation by the U.S. Travel Association's Economic Research Department.