Museums and parks have been closed. Subways are virtually empty and restaurants have almost halved their lunchtime customers. Washington under the effect of the shutdown is a ghost city. It’s the 31st day of the government’s closure, i.e. the shutdown of various government agencies with over 800 thousand employees on unpaid leave or working without pay, seriously affecting their bank accounts, mortgage payments, and the purchase of basic necessities.” “As federal civilian employees we receive our paycheck twice a month – explains Lucia, who works in the Election Committee -. Furthermore, American culture does not have a saving mentality, so people continue to use their credit card even if their bank account is in the red and they will have to pay huge interests, also because in many cases married couples work for the same government agency.” Despite the stalemate between President Donald Trump and congressional leaders, a few days ago a new bill was passed into law guaranteeing back pay for federal employees impacted by the shutdown. “It’s not us who decided no to go to work – Lucia pointed out – those payments are due, but we do not know when we will be paid. If the wall issue is not solved this situation could drag on until the next elections.” It’s a risk that can’t be ruled out as things stand today, considering also the growing political polarization of the two Chambers and the increasingly conflictual relationship with the Presidency.
In a number of dioceses Catholic Caritas saw a twofold increase of people standing on line for assistance, while many charities are offering food and a small contribution to cover housing expenses. There is great concern also within the Federal contracting community, with workers left without funding and radical staff reductions. Cleaning services in the office where Lucia used to work have been reduced by fifty percent: “Since we don’t go to office there is nothing to be cleaned and the cleaning agency has cut staff working night shifts. Some of my colleagues in other agencies were working with no pay while others have appealed to the Court of Justice, lamenting that their situation is comparable to that of slaves, forced to work with no pay. The Court rejected their appeal, yet this case testifies to the atmosphere across the Country.” In fact the impact of the shutdown is felt not only Washington. Approximately 5 thousand federal employees in the diocese of Salt Lake City and in Utah are on unpaid leave, experiencing huge difficulties that Catholic welfare organizations are unable to minister to in full. Catholic support services in Dayton, Ohio, have started sending an increasing number of trucks loaded with foodstuffs to suburban neighbourhoods. The Caritas Spokane Director added: “tens of thousands of people living on the poverty threshold risk falling below the poverty line.” This past weekend the mayor of New York announced that the city will lose 500 million dollars a week thereby jeopardizing a number of relief programs, starting with food stamps for 1.6 million New Yorkers, housing facilities for people affected by HIV, school canteens and homelessness services.
Seven million tours to national parks and two million visits to museums have been cancelled: these are some of the less-known repercussions of the government shutdown. Other consequences include lack of security checks in entries into stadiums, while firefighter training sessions have been called off, along with the testing and creation of vaccines and monitoring activity to thwart the invasion of certain types of locusts infesting trees and crops in some US States.
Yesterday the US bishops urged the President and Congress to end the shutdown, calling upon all parties involved to identify a bipartisan solution that takes into account the situation that families are facing including those dependent on federal workers and those assisted by critical nutrition and housing programs. The bishops equally rejected the construction of the wall, the primary cause of the legislative discord: “Our brother bishops on both sides of the U.S. border with Mexico oppose it, and it suggests changes in current law that would make it more difficult for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers to access protection”, declared Card. Daniel DiNardo, President of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, of Austin, Texas, Chairman of USCCB Committee on Migration. Despite opposition to the wall, Trump’s proposal on concessions to DACA youth holders, i.e. undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, was met as an encouragement to dialogue by the bishops.
“We are encouraged by the President’s openness to providing legislative relief for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders and existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients”, the bishops said -. “However, we understand that the President’s proposal would only provide temporary relief, leaving many in a continued vulnerable state. We believe that a permanent legislative solution is vital.” The prelates renewed their openness to assist in the drafting of an immigration reform and they will not accept that it be replaced by a wall. But as for now, all proposals have faded to nothing – this is true with regard to migration and to the ongoing shutdown alike.