By Amy Spekhardt The American government is currently in a deep debate with American workers once again caught in the crossfire. On October 1st, a government shutdown was implemented for the first time in 17 years. Hundreds of thousands of federal empl …

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US shutdown

By Amy Spekhardt

The American government is currently in a deep debate with American workers once again caught in the crossfire. On October 1st, a government shutdown was implemented for the first time in 17 years. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are currently being forced to take an unpaid leave of absence while other federal employees are still reporting to work without any guarantee of retroactive pay. The immediate concern facing the United States is the plight of its government workers, but the possible long term effects of this government shutdown on the fragile American economy also need to be considered. The federal government shutdown has left numerous federal employees without a means to support themselves or their families and has left American citizens without vital resources.

This government shutdown was initiated by a change in American ideologies that was personified through elections. In recent congressional elections, more conservative Republicans have been voted into the House of Representatives. The Republican representatives have chosen to use the federal budget to illustrate their disapproval of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. Approved budget bills from the House all included an attachment that would delay the funding for Obamacare for another year, the Senate has vetoed every one of the House’s budget bills and President Obama has stated he will veto any bill that defunds Obamacare. Without an approved budget the government shutdown, leaving millions of workers without a livelihood. Yet the politicians who initiated the shutdown are still receiving their $174,000 salary.

Presently, federal government employees have been confronted with hostile work environments that include 3 years of pay freezes, increasing workloads and now a government shutdown that will create unanticipated problems. In order to keep some of the federal agencies operating, workers have been devised into 2 categories of essential and non-essential. There are 800,000 people defined as ‘non-essential’ federal employees who are furloughed, which is a horrible phrase in itself to call workers – while the remaining ‘essential’ workers will likely not be paid until after budget is passed. The largest concern surrounding federal workers is if they will be receiving retroactive pay. Congress has already initiated the process of retroactively paying workers by introducing the “Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act.” This proposed bill does not guarantee federal workers will receive retroactive pay and the past few days have illustrated that American workers are not a priority in Congress.

Furloughed federal employees are not the only workers being greatly affected by this shutdown. American workers are especially at risk during this shutdown since the Department of Labor has 82% of its staff furloughed including wage and occupational safety regulators. Additionally, this shutdown hinders foreign workers ability to gain the necessary approval to work within the United States. The United States State Department will not be able to process visa applications and in previous shutdowns 20,000-30,000 visa applications went unprocessed daily. Moreover, small businesses are feeling the harsh effects of the government shutdown. Small businesses are unable to start their previously awarded government contracts and cannot apply for small business loans. They are already facing a turbulent economy and the uncertainty of this government shutdown could have lasting effects on their viability.

The conflicting Congress was able to protect the essential funding of the Defense Department. The Pentagon is continuing to fund work that protects life, property and national security which includes war-related operations and emergency response services. American troops will continue to be paid thanks to a last minute bill signed into effect Monday night by President Obama. Additionally, veterans will continue to receive necessary benefits while some nonessential benefits are limited. Veteran hospitals will remain open and both vocational rehabilitation and educational counseling will be limited. Finally, veterans will be able to receive their October compensation benefits but the Department of Veteran Affairs stated that funding to maintain pension and disability claims will be unavailable if the shutdown lasts more than 3 weeks.

The American economy will be impacted by this government shutdown. The research firm IHS has estimated that the shutdown could cost the American government $300 million a day. The 28 day shutdown 1995-1996 cost the US government 1.5 billion, which adjusted for inflation cost $2.1 billion today. At the moment, the stock markets have not been affected by the shutdown with all three indexes rising when the market opened on Tuesday. However, the dysfunction that Congress is currently illustrating could greatly affect their inability to raise the debt ceiling. US economists are predicting a fierce reaction in the financial markets if the government cannot address this issue in a timely fashion. The government’s failure to promptly address economic issues places greater strain on the American federal budget, the budget deficit and ultimately its citizens.

Elected officials are meant to protect the people they represent. Many members of Congress are not fulfilling their obligation to their constituents by forcing them to work without pay or being unable to earn a wage. American workers need to be one of the highest proprieties in Congress. A stable work environment will help generate economic recovery and will increase tax revenue for the government. The American Congress needs to stabilize the largest employer in the United States i.e. itself. Without the ability to control itself, how can Congress combat the hardships American workers are constantly confronting?


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