Shutdown’s impact shows signs of growing

Greg Nash

The 18-day partial government shutdown is suspending court cases, delaying mortgage approvals and causing lapses to safety net programs, all of which may intensify pressures on the White House and Congress to end it.

Many agencies found short-term workarounds when the shutdown began on Dec. 22, but those efforts are beginning to run thin.

Here’s a look at what’s happening.


Subsidized housing

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contracts with 23,000 private apartment building owners to provide Section 8 subsidies for approved tenants. During the shutdown, HUD cannot renew those contracts, putting 1,150 of those buildings in limbo.

HUD recently sent out letters to those landlords telling them to dip into their reserve funds until the government reopens and the contracts can be renewed, as first reported in The Washington Post. The department already set aside payments through February for the nonexpired contracts and for similar programs affecting the elderly and disabled.

While evictions are unlikely, landlords may have to cut back on maintenance and improvements in their buildings.

Local housing authorities that provide Section 8 vouchers may also find themselves low on funds if the shutdown persists, but HUD says it has set aside funds for January and February for those payments.

The shutdown is also affecting some people who were expecting help getting their mortgages approved.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs a program that helps about 140,000 rural and suburban homebuyers each year get a mortgage with no down payment and low interest rates.


Other mortgages are backed by the Federal Housing Administration, which is running on a reduced staff, meaning they cannot keep up with approval requests. Some lenders require certain verifications from Social Security or the IRS, which could also be affected.

Families depending on those programs to buy a house have been left in limbo.


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is downplaying reports of callouts by TSA agents.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said in a statement Monday that callouts have “had minimal impact on operations” and that 99.8 percent of passengers have gone through checkpoints in under 30 minutes.

But there have been reports of long lines at airports across the country, including at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Security concerns have also been raised.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, wrote in a letter Monday to TSA Administrator David Pekoske that he is concerned about the shutdown’s effects “on the employees and operations” of TSA.

“I am concerned if wait times and public pressure increase, some TSA managers may try to manage the effects of the shutdown in ways that are detrimental to security,” Thompson wrote in the letter.

Andrew LeBovidge, a vice president at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said Monday on CNN that the implementation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s training programs have been frozen because of the shutdown. He predicted that could have ripple effects for workers, possibly for years to come.

National parks

For the second time since President Trump took office, the Interior Department left park gates open for a shutdown.

Visitors can get into national parks, but the federal government isn’t providing ranger guidance or basic services. This has led to reports of overflowing trash cans and bathrooms. One park has had to close.

The National Park Service (NPS) announced Sunday it would be taking the unprecedented step of pulling from its entrance fee coffers to pay staffers to return to maintain the overburdened parks.

“As the lapse in appropriations continues, it has become clear that highly visited parks with limited staff have urgent needs that cannot be addressed solely through the generosity of our partners,” Daniel Smith, NPS deputy director, said in a statement.

The heavily criticized move means a number of parks could soon see amenities restored — at least until the hundreds of millions collected by the NPS during the last fiscal year runs out. 

Critics argue that pulling from the fees will hurt parks down the line. The fees normally go toward filling the agency’s $12 billion maintenance backlog.

“Every dollar spent on cleaning toilets is a dollar that won’t go towards making parks habitable come summer. This is robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said one park service officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Jonathan Jarvis, the director of the National Park Service from 2009 to 2017, said spending the fees could throw future maintenance needs completely out of whack.

“Let’s say you’re generating, on an annual basis, $3 million in revenue coming into your park, and you’ve got a $6 million project. So you’ve accumulated that fund so that you can take that project on. You’ve got it scheduled out, you’ve been doing the compliance, you’ve been getting the design drawings so you can execute, say, in fiscal ’20. But that money is not obligated, it’s just in the account,” he said.

“This would potentially set back a project from when they had it scheduled.”

Tax payments

In past shutdowns, the IRS was banned from providing tax refunds. On Monday, the Trump administrations said it would allow the IRS to do so.

“We have been trying to make this as painless as possible consistent with the law,” said Russell Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Food stamps

The USDA will run out of funds to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, if the shutdown drags into February, something that would affect 38 million Americans.


Federal courts used reserve funding initially to ride out the shutdown, but those reserves, from fees and other nonappropriated revenue, will run out on Friday.

Once they do, federal courts will have to scale back their work in a serious way.

“Under this scenario, each court and federal defender’s office would determine the staffing resources necessary to support such work,” the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement ahead of the shutdown.  

That would go all the way up to the Supreme Court, which would also find itself short-staffed.

“We’re definitely OK through Friday,” Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

CORRECTION: HUD has set aside payments through February for nonexpired contracts with private apartment building owners to provide Section 8 subsidies. An earlier version of this story included an incorrect timeline.


Tags Bennie Thompson Donald Trump food stamps SNAP Government shutdown National Parks Service subsidized housing tax refunds TSA

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