An ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government has already caused canceled meetings, delayed permitting and the closure of some facilities at national parks in New Jersey. But concerns are running high that the effects could be more serious and widespread if the political gridlock continues in Washington, D.C.
Hanging in the balance this month are paychecks for essential Coast Guard members, including those stationed in Cape May. If the shutdown drags on, food stamps and other assistance for thousands of New Jersey residents could also be held back.
There is also apprehension about the impact that a long shutdown could have on already short-staffed air traffic controllers at Newark Liberty International Airport.
The gridlock is already preventing the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau from approving expansion plans for Hackensack-based Alementary Brewing Co. even though the owners are already renting space and have purchased nearly $1 million worth of new equipment.
“They are currently shut down as being ‘non-essential,’” co-owner Blake Crawford said yesterday while speaking about the permitting agency’s workers. “It’s only ‘non-essential’ if your business doesn’t depend completely on them working.”
Gottheimer: ‘…no way to govern’
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th), speaking inside Alementary Brewing’s idled Hackensack workspace, called the growing company “a case study in jobs, development, and growth all being put on hold because of this absurd government shutdown.” He also lamented that all lending has been put on hold by the federal Small Business Administration, an agency that was expected to provide an estimated $900 million to expanding companies in New Jersey last year.
“This is, obviously, no way to govern,” Gottheimer said.
A more prolonged impasse could also threaten the income-tax refunds owed to New Jersey residents, many of whom are already irate over the capping of the federal SALT deduction for state and local taxes that went into effect for the 2018 tax year.
The partial shutdown started late last month after President Donald Trump and the Congress could not reach agreement on the latest federal spending legislation, specifically due to a dispute involving funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump, a first-term Republican, is now using the shutdown as leverage in a last-ditch attempt to live up to a core campaign promise to build the wall, albeit one that he repeatedly pledged would be funded by Mexico and not U.S. taxpayers.
But now Trump is holding up the spending legislation until he can convince the newly-flipped Democratic Congress to allocate more than $5 billion in taxpayer funding for a wall the Democrats generally consider to be ineffective at stopping illegal immigration. House Democrats, in turn, are planning to approve spending bills that would restore all budgets other than for Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he will not allow a vote on the spending bills in the Senate.
Ironically, a notice distributed yesterday by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association informed companies that the federal government’s E-Verify system, which is used by businesses to determine whether they should reject job seekers who may be here illegally, is offline as a result of the shutdown.
Not all services and programs have been shut down as a result of the impasse; among those still operating are Social Security, the Department of Defense, including military bases, and the U.S. Postal Service. But the Coast Guard is funded through the Department of Homeland Security, putting thousands of those service members in danger of missing their next paycheck on January 15.
Air-traffic controllers in Newark
The standoff is also raising concerns for air-traffic controllers who work at Newark Airport, which is already short-staffed, according to reporting by NJTV News.
“The last thing we really want to deal with right now is (an) unknown of when we’re going to get paid,” Bill Striffler, the head of airport’s air-traffic controllers union, told NJTV’s Brenda Flanagan.
Federal parks are also being affected by the shutdown. Many remain open but their facilities like restrooms are locked. For example, an alert posted on the website yesterday for the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Sandy Hook in New Jersey, said “there will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services, such as restrooms, trash collection, facilities, or road maintenance” due to the shutdown.
The shutdown has also impacted the Environmental Protection Agency, which has canceled a public meeting scheduled for Hasbrouck Heights tomorrow to detail plans to address a major Superfund site.
“In his war on the environment, Trump is using the wall and budget process to stop the EPA and National Parks from functioning. This will have a damaging ripple effect to our public land, national parks, clean air and clean water,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
What about food stamps?
Looking ahead to next month, the shutdown is likely to affect the more than 700,000 New Jersey residents who receive food stamps as that program is funded through the federal Department of Agriculture. That was one of the concerns highlighted by state Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio yesterday in response to questions about how the federal impasse could impact programs administered from Trenton.
“Thus far, critical New Jersey services, such as public safety, health and welfare programs, have not been impacted,” Muoio said. “However, we are concerned that crucial safety net services will be impacted should the shutdown drag on past the end of January, particularly when it comes to SNAP (food stamps), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and Child Care.”
Another concern for taxpayers is how a prolonged shutdown could impact the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to process income-tax forms in advance of the April 15 deadline and pay out refunds. That uncertainty comes at a particularly sensitive time for New Jersey residents as tax changes that were enacted in 2017 are hurting many by capping what used to be an unlimited deduction for state and local taxes to $10,000. White House officials reportedly promised late yesterday that refunds would not be affected by the shutdown.
Gottheimer said yesterday that lawmakers would be back at the Capitol today to vote on proposals to restore funding for most of the impacted agencies, actions that would be similar to efforts launched last week. Doing so would reopen the government while allowing for more time for Congress and the president to negotiate the border-security issue. But Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate are expected to oppose those efforts. Indeed, the president has suggested the shutdown could last for “months or even years.”