By Gwen Roley
With the federal government shutdown in its third week, local citizens are starting to feel the impact on their daily lives. In an Oval Office appearance Tuesday night, President Trump blamed the Democrats for the impasse over federal funding of border security and said the matter could be solved in as little as 45 minutes. In response, Democrat leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer called on the President to re-open government agencies and negotiate border security separately.
President Trump shut down the government at midnight on December 22 after Congress and the President failed to agree on the appropriation of federal funds for the 2019 fiscal year. As a result, some – but not all – federal government agencies have closed their offices and discontinued operations. Approximately 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or are working without pay while federal contractors have been off work. However, some government departments have previously been funded and remain open.
The federal agency with the largest presence in Blaine, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is continuing to operate in a limited capacity.
Kenneth Williams, CBP area port director, told The Northern Light U.S. ports of entry will remain staffed and travelers will still be admitted to the U.S.
“Without an appropriation bill, CBP Office of Field Operations can only perform essential functions, such as anti-terrorism, narcotic and bioterrorism functions,” Williams said.
Currently, all CBP administrative offices are closed and non-essential CBP functions cannot be performed at this time. For example, the NEXUS office at Birch Bay Square is closed and not accepting clients.
Although some national parks are closed, Peace Arch State Park is open and operating as a part of the Washington state parks system. U.S. post offices are still open and mail is still being delivered. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs remains unaffected by the shutdown, so veterans in Whatcom County can still go to the veteran center in Bellingham for events and assistance.
As a port of entry, Blaine is also home to offices for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, both located on Pacific Highway. The FDA office remains open in a limited capacity but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office is completely closed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Small Business Administration are also closed.
The Northern Light asked readers on Facebook how they are being affected by the shutdown. Some said they were unaffected and expressed support for building the wall at the southern border, the issue at the heart of the dispute over funding.
“No issues, build the wall,” Jason Mooney commented.
Others said they are beginning to feel the financial pressure as the shutdown drags on.
“I’m a government employee working without pay,” Sue Hamann responded. “Most of us do not have a huge savings account to draw from, but bills come anyway.”
On January 7, the Washington State Employee Security Department (ESD) announced federal workers furloughed by the shutdown can apply for state unemployment benefits.
As the shutdown continues, thousands of federal employees in Washington state are without a paycheck.
“Just like other workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own, federal workers have the unemployment safety net to help them through this difficult time,” said ESD commissioner Suzi LeVine.
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services is also working to assure Washington residents receive social assistance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides funds to DSHS for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as Basic Food in Washington state. At this time, there is enough appropriated funding for Basic Food and SNAP to last until the end of January.
“If the shutdown continues until February, clients could see disruptions in their accounts,” said DSHS media relations manager Kelly Stowe. “State leadership is looking at solutions right now to attempt to continue services past January.”
Stowe said Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will continue to function throughout the shutdown as it is a state program.
Although meetings have been scheduled between Congressional leaders and President Trump as of press time, there is no telling how long the shutdown will continue.