When President Trump made the decision to partially shut down the U.S. government in an effort to secure funding for his much-hyped border wall, he might not have completely thought things through. He would certainly be protected, thanks to essential White House staff members attending his needs and a Cadillac limo with a five-inch-thick plate of armor to transport the commander-in-chief from place to place. But a federal shutdown means a lack of protections for many government workers and for the general public. And despite the fact that the government has reopened (for now), the effects of the 35-day shutdown are still being felt by countless Americans.
No one may have realized the extent of what such a lengthy shutdown could mean for the American people. Food safety was already a growing concern among many residents, what with the growing number of recalls and reports of contamination. Although insulated packaging and dry ice can preserve perishable items for up to 48 hours during the shipping process, that doesn’t provide a lot of comfort when the Food and Drug Administration is rendered inoperable. Because the FDA oversees roughly 80% of the U.S. food supply, a prolonged shutdown substantially increases the risk that people can become sick from what they eat simply due to the absence of inspections and other protective efforts.
The FDA did call in 135 workers to resume inspections for high-risk items prior to the end of the shutdown, but there’s really no telling what they could have missed during the initial phase of the shutdown. As a result, experts cautioned consumers to be wary of food items over which they don’t have control, such as ready-to-eat salads, sprouts, cheese, ice cream, pre-packaged sandwiches, and more. The FDA has also noted that the responsibility for food safety actually lies with the individual companies, though Americans have recently seen that perhaps that’s no real reassurance at all.
Of course, it’s not just the food supply that’s been impacted by the shutdown. Some government workers have faced disproportionately high healthcare bills, while prison safety might have been compromised due to employee furloughs. And then there are the workers who were being forced to work without pay — and those who might not even be eligible for back pay.
Although the 800,000 government employees who were impacted during the shutdown will receive their delayed paychecks, federal contract workers aren’t entitled to this same guarantee. They’re already the lowest-paid laborers in the government sector, and with the inability to bring home a paycheck, many are facing a lack of healthcare, food, electricity, and even a place to call home. And while a Democratic-backed bill has been introduced that would ensure government contractors would be eligible for back pay, this relief may not become a reality for those Americans for quite some time. If the government is to shut down again in February, as Trump as threatened, the results could be disastrous for this part of the federal workforce. And understandably, federal worker morale is likely to be at an all-time low.
It’s not just federal employees and contractors who feel the adverse effects. Small businesses are struggling, too. There are nearly 28 million small businesses throughout the U.S., making them the most common type of organization in our nation. Many of these organizations depend on the patronage of government workers or indirectly do business with government agencies. As a result, some had trouble staying afloat during this most recent shutdown; if another should occur, some might not be able to remain open at all. Companies that rely on Small Business Administration loans also experienced hardships, while others were unable to even obtain the information they needed to file paperwork.
Then, there are fears that the shutdown (and potential continuation of it later this month) could make U.S. websites more vulnerable to cyber attacks and even put American motorists at risk. Every year, 3 million people are injured in car accidents on U.S. roads. Without the ability to monitor automobiles and road safety issues, government agencies could force drivers to suffer in ways that might be completely preventable.
Not surprisingly, consumer confidence has fallen significantly, which could have a huge effect on the American economy as a whole. And when you consider that the government shutdown cost the U.S. economy $11 billion — nearly double the amount that Trump requested to fund the border wall — it’s no wonder that many residents are losing faith in the pillars of our government that were put in place to protect the nation. Many Americans are merely holding their breath to see what happens next, which is a concept with which all too many residents have become familiar over the last few years.