Today, the current partial shutdown of the United States government becomes the longest in the history of our country.
At 22 days, this shutdown has surpassed the previous holder of this dubious honor, the 21-day shutdown which stretched from December 1995 into January 1996 when President Bill Clinton and the GOP Congress clashed over federal spending. This time, the battle is over funding for a border wall and immigration policy.
The shutdown of government affects all citizens in small and not so small ways. But yesterday the effect took a very dire turn when hundreds of thousands of federal employees did not receive a paycheck.
The majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Money gets made; money gets immediately spent on rent, mortgages, food, gas, home heating, electricity, cars, etc. For some 800,000 federal employees forced to go on unpaid leave or work without pay, no money came in yesterday, but the bills did.
Also impacted are local businesses, banks, grocery stores and gas stations with which they would ordinarily do business, but now can't without paychecks.
Most of us can empathize with the stress this places on a family. Studies show one-quarter of us Americans have no emergency fund. Many more families have just a small one that won't sustain them for more than a couple months.
With 80 percent of federal employees living outside the Beltway, many of these unpaid federal employees who serve us, the American people, have addresses like Kittery and New Castle, Rochester and York, Dover and Hampton. They are our neighbors.
The Seacoast has been lucky the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and its many federal employees have been unaffected by the shutdown because the Department of Defense is funded. Passport and visa services continue unaffected at The National Visa Center in Portsmouth. U.S. Postal Service employees keep delivering our mail each day. But IRS employees working in Portsmouthís federal building have been furloughed, and the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington has been closed by the government shutdown. And there are many less visible employees who are affected. Rockingham County had just under a thousand federal employees in 2014; Strafford Country about 300. Approximately 5,700 federal employees work in York County.
Those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, protecting us and our coastal waters, manning their stations and responding to distress calls from mariners, are perhaps the local residents hit hardest. Unlike other branches of the military, the Coast Guard is part of the Homeland Security Department, not the Department of Defense, which means its employees are not getting paid though they are still serving on active duty. In many cases, while a Coast Guardsman is away serving, their family is at home now unable to pay rent or car loans, and facing their first trip to a food pantry.
Itís a travesty that public servants like our Coast Guardsmen continue to do their duty, but are unable to provide basics such as housing and food for themselves and their families. We as citizens need to let our lawmakers know how wrong this is. It's ridiculous that we're hurting our own citizens and making them feel like pawns in a political game they have nothing to do with, just because our elected leaders can't work together to find solutions to our country's problems. Standing still and watching is unacceptable; working together to find solutions and compromise is necessary and urgent. We need to let our elected leaders know we expect them to do their duty, as the rest of our federal employees are, and lead us out of this impasse.