Feature

The shutdown’s toll

The impact of the first partial government shutdown in 17 years rippled across the nation.

The impact of the first partial government shutdown in 17 years rippled across the nation this week as federal agencies and parks were shuttered, and around 800,000 federal employees deemed “non-essential” were sent home without pay. More than 400 national parks and attractions—-including the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon—were closed to the public. Food-safety inspections were cut back, and the National Institutes of Health announced that for every week of the shutdown, it would have to turn away about 10 children seeking cancer treatment. “It’s heartbreaking,” said NIH Director Francis Collins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, said it had furloughed scientists who study and track disease outbreaks. “I am losing sleep because we don’t know if we’ll be able to find and stop things that might kill people,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden.

But “most essential government services (and many that are not) will continue to function as usual,” said Michael Tanner in NationalReview.com. The U.S. Postal Service will keep delivering mail, and air traffic controllers will stay on the job, as will FBI employees. Seniors will still receive Social Security and Medicare benefits, and uniformed soldiers will get their paychecks. This is really less of a government shutdown and more of a much-needed downsizing.

The economic damage caused by this shutdown can’t be so easily dismissed, said Ezra Klein in WashingtonPost.com. The government estimates that the 28-day shutdown of 1995–96 cost around $2 billion in today’s dollars. But that didn’t account for “the lost value of work that wasn’t done, or the $300 million the federal parks would have taken in, or the reduced pace of IRS audits.”

The pain for “basically everyone” will only increase as the shutdown drags on, said Tim Murphy in MotherJones.com. The housing market could suffer a blow, as the Federal Housing -Administration, which guarantees 30 percent of home -mortgages, isn’t approving new loans. Students could see their loans and Pell Grants delayed thanks to cutbacks at the Department of Education. Some 9 million at-risk mothers and children could go hungry as federal food assistance programs run out of cash. Members of Congress, though, will continue receiving their salaries.

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