The effects of the partial government shutdown are widening as the impasse over President Donald Trump’s request for $5 billion for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border grinds through its third week with no signs of abating.
Nine federal agencies have been forced to close due to the shutdown, which began Dec. 22: the departments of the Treasury, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Commerce, and Justice.
Across the country, the shutdown is making its impact felt. Here’s what’s happening now — and what could happen if the impasse continues.
Missed pay for federal workers
Roughly 800,000 federal workers have gone without their regular paychecks, with more than 400,000 considered “essential” and required to work without pay. There are about 45,000 federal employees in Philadelphia and its immediate suburbs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Philly has one of the highest concentrations of federal workers outside Washington. — Rob Tornoe
Closures and lack of staffing at national parks and museums
Garbage and human waste have begun to pile up at national parks, many of which have been left open to visitors despite staff furloughs. The Smithsonian announced on Jan. 2 that the National Zoo and its 19 museums were closed to the public.
Immigration, open and closed
Immigration Court in Philadelphia is shuttered, accepting only emergency filings for people who are already in detention. That mirrors what’s occurring in most of the rest of the country, where courts closed Dec. 26, available only for emergency requests. All other docketed cases will be rescheduled once funding resumes.
Most operations at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the nation’s legal immigration system, continue to function. All USCIS offices are open, and people should attend their scheduled interviews and appointments. The shutdown does not impact the fee-for-service activities performed by USCIS.
“Most USCIS employees are not subject to a furlough … because their pay is funded exclusively by fee accounts,” said USCIS spokesperson Jane Cowley. “However, the pay of a small group of USCIS employees is funded by an appropriation. These employees work for the USCIS E-Verify program, and as such they have been furloughed.” — Jeff Gammage
No new craft beer, liquor can be approved
The process by which labels are approved for the sale of new beer, wine, and distilled spirits has come to a stop. No new applications have been reviewed for weeks, leaving thousands of manufacturers around the country in a holding pattern when it comes to new releases.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, part of the U.S. Treasury Department, is tasked with approving labels for wine, beer, and spirits before they hit store shelves, ensuring they carry required information such as the alcohol content by volume.
Normally, the turnaround for such an approval might only take a few weeks, local distillers and brewers said, but no labels have been reviewed since Dec. 21. Manufacturers can still submit applications during the shutdown; the website for the bureau indicated that the agency received more than 192,000 such applications in 2018 as of Dec. 21. — Allison Steele
FDA pauses regulatory work, inspections
The Food and Drug Administration is continuing its “core functions,” such as monitoring for outbreaks, supporting food and medical recalls, and pursuing criminal and civil investigations, according to a shutdown contingency plan from the Department of Health and Human Services.
However, the FDA is pausing some routine regulatory work and won’t conduct establishment inspections during the shutdown, according to HHS. — Christian Hetrick
Weather reports continue, but meteorologists aren’t getting paid
The National Weather Service, which falls under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is still operating, but on a limited basis. Workers were furloughed on Dec. 22, but certain employees were exempt. Those employees, including meteorologists, have been deemed essential and must still report to work but are not being paid. They are issuing forecasts and maintaining social media accounts for the public. But all other duties not related to providing critical forecasts and weather warnings have been canceled. — Frank Kummer
Efforts by the EPA face serious constraints
The Environmental Protection Agency has 13,972 full- and part-time employees, most of whom were furloughed from duties at 134 facilities on Dec. 29. Many are scientists and engineers. About 800 employees have been deemed essential to carry out various duties.
The furlough means it will be difficult for citizens to get information about pressing environmental issues. The EPA warned that its websites were not being updated, except in the event of an environmental emergency.
“The Superfund Program will continue to respond at sites where there is an imminent threat to the safety of human life or to the protection of property,” EPA spokesperson Molly Block said in an email. “Ongoing work at Superfund sites will also continue without EPA involvement up to the point that additional EPA direction or funding is needed. Cleanup activities requiring new funding will not start and sites where cleanup activities have been stopped or shut down will be secured until cleanup activities are able to commence when the federal government reopens.” — Frank Kummer
Mortgage seekers could face delays
The shutdown could delay new mortgages for some homeowners.
The portion of the Internal Revenue Service that focuses on income validation for new mortgages was not deemed an essential function, said Pete Mills, senior vice president of residential policy at the Mortgage Bankers Association. That means home buyers who need income verification when seeking mortgages could see a delay — particularly gig-economy workers who do not receive regular income documentation.
Mortgage lenders typically attempt to validate a borrower’s income and tax returns “in an abundance of caution” before funding a loan, Mills said. More complicated borrowers could have their home purchases put on hold — adding delays to the entire housing market.
Government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have continued operations. Qualified borrowers are also expected to be able to proceed with Federal Housing Administration loans.
The biggest impact of the shutdown could be on consumer sentiment, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. “The housing market was already somewhat fragile," he said, adding that a prolonged shutdown “could quickly snowball into very bad news for real estate.” — Caitlin McCabe
Court operations could be curtailed
So far, the region’s federal courts have continued to operate largely as normal by dipping into court fees and other sources not dependent upon congressional appropriations. However, officials at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts expect those funds to become severely depleted should the shutdown extend beyond Jan. 11.
The federal courts would not close entirely if that deadline is breached, but significant curtailment of operations would occur and funding for jurors, some probation supervision, court reporters, and public defenders could be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, most federal law enforcement officers in Eastern Pennsylvania — including prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office — continue to work without pay. Certain employees within their offices whose roles are deemed nonessential have been temporarily furloughed. — Jeremy Roebuck
Food stamps, WIC covered at least through end of January
Food stamps (known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) will continue through the end of January, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which did not receive its appropriations. Local advocates believe that people will be covered even if the partial shutdown lasts into February and beyond because of the program’s importance.
The WIC program (Women, Infants, and Children Food and Nutrition Service), also part of the USDA, is not getting federal funding because of the partial shutdown, advocates say. But it can rely on state and local funds for a short while. It’s not clear how long people can expect to get their WIC benefits, according to Seth Hanlon, senior fellow with the Center for American Progress in Washington. In Pennsylvania, WIC should be funded at least through the end of January, according to Kathy Fisher, policy director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. — Alfred Lubrano
Uncertainty over tax refunds
While the thinly staffed Internal Revenue Service earlier said it couldn’t issue any refunds during the shutdown, the White House now says the agency can refund taxpayers even if the impasse persists into filing season.
But it’s not clear how the agency will issue refunds without staff to process returns.
And as tax season begins to roll around, the IRS is not currently responding to taxpayer questions. Also, the IRS has not announced an official start date for the 2019 filing season. Typically, the start of the tax filing season is in mid-to-late January.
Despite the shutdown, the IRS continues to operate on a partial basis from funds not tied to its expired annual appropriations. While tax reform implementation is funded through September 2019, this year’s tax filing season is up in the air. — Erin Arvedlund
Domestic violence shelters worry about funds
Workers at shelters that serve vulnerable populations and rely on federal funding are starting to worry. Domestic violence agencies in the Philadelphia region say their biggest concern is the uncertainty that comes with not knowing when payments might come.
Although the programs have enough money to operate for now, they may have to furlough workers and cut down on services if the shutdown drags on. Advocates for survivors of domestic violence fear furloughed federal employees may choose to return to unsafe home situations if they continue to go without paychecks and cannot provide for themselves. — Michaelle Bond
PHA operating on contingency funding
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is closed, according to its website. A 90-page contingency plan is in place.
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Housing Authority said there has been no impact on day-to-day operations. Landlords in the housing choice vouchers program will continue to receive their payments. The Philadelphia agency “has contingency funding to float operations for at least two months,” said Nichole Tillman, the spokesperson. — Caitlin McCabe
Essential workers on the job at Philadelphia International Airport
At Philadelphia International Airport, 73 air traffic controllers and seven traffic management coordinators are working as essential employees, according to Christopher Perks, local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at Philadelphia International.
Meanwhile, four employees in the control tower were furloughed. These FAA staff specialists handle quality control, take care of training requirements, and plan for special operations, whether they involve the military or a fireworks display.
Even though those workers were deemed “nonessential,” Perks said their job is “crucial” to allowing air traffic controllers to focus on the job of moving airplanes.
“We’ll always be safe, but efficiency is what is degraded,” he said.
A spokesperson at PHL said the airport has not been affected by the government shutdown.
“Essential personnel from FAA, TSA, and CBP are still on the job and the airport is functioning with normal operations,” airport spokesperson Diane Gerace said in a statement. — Catherine Dunn
Section 8 drawing on previously appropriated funds
As for federal Section 8 housing, for low-income people, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will continue to make payments, even though it did not receive its appropriations. HUD officials will be drawing on previously advanced appropriations, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. — Alfred Lubrano
Pa. pension funds could take a hit
During a news conference in Pittsburgh with labor leaders, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he was concerned how the shutdown would affect the national economy and the stock market — and therefore the state’s pension funds.
Workers who don’t have an income won’t be shopping — and that will mean the state loses out on sales tax. “As the state’s chief fiscal officer, I can already see what’s going to happen to the Pennsylvania economy because of this,” DePasquale said. — Catherine Dunn
Social Security payments will continue
The budget brawl won’t affect Social Security benefits because the Social Security Administration received its full funding for fiscal year 2019 in September, the agency said.
“Social Security services and offices will remain fully operational, and Social Security benefits will be paid on time,” spokesperson Dorothy Clark wrote in an email. — Christian Hetrick
Unemployment checks won’t be affected
The U.S. Labor Department, which includes the Office of Unemployment Insurance, isn’t affected by the government shutdown because it has funding in place through September.
“All of our operations are intact,” spokesperson Leni Uddyback-Fortson wrote in an email. — Christian Hetrick
HHS programs running
The federal cash welfare program known as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) is under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has gotten its appropriations and is not shut down, according to Seth Hanlon, senior fellow with the Center for American Progress in Washington. Similarly, the Child Care Development Fund is also part of HHS, and will not be affected by the partial shutdown.
Officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services said the federal LIHEAP program, which helps people heat their homes, will continue through the year. Similarly, many homeless-assistance programs are state funded, and are not threatened, officials said. — Alfred Lubrano
Benefits and drawbacks for private cultural institutions
Institutions around Independence National Historical Park are feeling the impact of the shutdown, and visitors to the area are often “confused” about what is open and what is not, according to tourism officials and those working at sites in the area.
Alex McKechnie, spokesperson for the Museum of the American Revolution, a private nonprofit that does not rely on federal funding, said there has been a “noticeable increase” in the number of telephone calls asking if the museum, at Third and Chestnut Streets. is open. (It is.) But there’s been a down tick in museum attendance since the beginning of the shutdown, she said.
Meanwhile, officials at the private National Museum of American Jewish History, at Fifth and Market Streets, and the National Constitution Center, on the northernmost block of Independence Mall, reported marked increases in visitors during the shutdown. And at Carpenters Hall, a privately held historic building within the confines of the national park, visitation during the shutdown has been about double what it was last year. — Stephan Salisbury