Planning A Trip To DC? Forget About Visiting The Smithsonian During Shutdown

With the partial government shutdown officially hitting its one-week anniversary at midnight on Friday, affected government agencies are planning to carry out the next round of cutbacks and furloughs as many have burned through their reserve funds and will now need to cut back on operations until the government reopens.

According to Bloomberg, nearly 14,000 employees of the EPA are preparing to be furloughed at midnight as President Trump and Congressional Dems have warned that the shutdown could persist for a long time (and many analysts on Wall Street see no end in sight). And if you're planning a trip to the US capital during the coming days and weeks, you can cross the Smithsonian off your itinerary - because all museums, research centers and the National Zoo will close starting Jan. 2 unless funding is restored.

Smith

The EPA has already used its emergency funds, which allowed it to continue normal operations during the first week of the shutdown.  But it is on the brink of exhausting these resources. In a message to staff on Thursday, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that unless new funding is approved employees will be furloughed at midnight, with all travel plans for furloughed employees cancelled. These workers will join the roughly 350,000 from nine departments who are already staying home.

The Smithsonian said closings would include the popular National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of African American History & Culture on the National Mall in Washington, and the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New York. An estimated 20.9 million people visited its 21 free museums and zoo in the first 10 months of the year.

Even the armed services will be impacted by the shutdown: Members of the Coast Guard were expected to miss their last paychecks of 2018 until the service was able to pull together a "one-time action" to pay their workforce, according to Bloomberg.

Coast Guard service members almost had to miss their final paychecks of 2018. Chief Warrant Officer Chad Saylor, a spokesman, had said in an interview Friday that the service’s Dec. 31 paychecks wouldn’t be delivered because unlike other U.S. military branches, it’s under the Department of Homeland Security. The Defense Department isn’t affected by the shutdown.

Later Friday, a Coast Guard workforce blog said the service had found a way to pay its military workforce in a "one-time action." Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine called the move "good news" on Twitter, where she had earlier posted that it was "not fair" that the Coast Guard members wouldn’t be paid.

Fortunately, the government has some handy advice for workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck and aren't sure how they will compensate for the shortfall. In a letter sent to furloughed employees, the Office of Personnel Management advised workers short on cash to try bargaining with their landlords, or possibly offering to do some maintenance work in exchange for rent.

They could also try reaching out to their lender if they're having trouble making their next mortgage payment.

Idled workers may wish to reach out to creditors, the Office of Personnel Management, which manages federal workers, said online on Thursday. Some may wish to write to landlords to discuss "the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments," according to a templated letter posted by the personnel office.

Mortgage holders, meanwhile, could try informing their lender that "my income has been severely cut and I am unable to pay the entire cost of my mortgage," according to another letter drafted by the personnel office. The office said workers may want to "consult with your personal attorney" - a suggestion that drew waves of online scorn.

Of course, as one twitter user pointed out, most federal workers struggling to get by on a weekly basis probably don't have a "personal attorney" to consult.

If the shutdown remains in effect, all employees of the nine departments impacted by the funding shortfall will miss their next paychecks on Jan. 11.

More on the shutdown via Bloomberg:

  • There’s little indication of any imminent agreement to resolve the standoff before the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.
  • Trump is demanding $5 billion for the wall, while Democratic leaders proposed $1.3 billion for border security.

Latest Developments

  • The Senate and House are set to hold brief sessions Monday but no votes are scheduled. Lawmakers will be given 24 hours notice if there’s a breakthrough that would require a vote.
  • Trump tweeted on Friday that he would completely close the border with Mexico unless Democrats provide money for the wall and change immigration laws.
  • If the standoff continues, all workers in the nine departments and dozens of agencies affected by the closure will miss their next paycheck on Jan. 11.

Next Steps

  • Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have been negotiating with the Trump administration. Once they reach agreement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’ll seek a vote on the deal.
  • Democrats take control of the House on Jan. 3, when Nancy Pelosi, who's in line to become speaker, says the chamber will pass a spending bill to reopen the government -- without money for a wall.

Key Impacts

  • The shutdown, which began Dec. 22, affects nine of the 15 federal departments, dozens of agencies, and hundreds of thousands of workers.
  • Among the departments without funding are: Justice, Homeland Security, Interior and Treasury. Independent agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, are also affected.
  • The departments whose funding lapsed represent about a quarter of the $1.24 trillion in government discretionary spending for fiscal year 2019.
  • An estimated 400,000 federal employees are working without pay and 350,000 are furloughed, according to a congressional Democratic aide.
  • Federal employees working without pay and those now furloughed got their Dec. 28 paychecks under a decision by the White House budget office since pay reflects work before Dec. 21. 
  • The remaining parts of the government, including the Defense Department and the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, were already funded and won’t be affected by the shutdown, nor will mandatory entitlement programs like Medicare payments.