Government shutdown: It’s not just national parks. People are being denied cancer treatment.

It was with a certain degree of bemusement I read John’s earlier post, about WWII vets swarming a war memorial that had been closed due to the GOP-caused federal government shutdown that began one minute after midnight on 1 October 2013.

I even remarked in the comments that I had a suspicion the “storming” of the monument was staged. Particularly given the suspiciously timely appearance of certain grandstanding GOP CongressLemmings, the very members of Congress who voted to shut down the government, and the WWII memorial, in the first place.

Then I began looking around the web for various news stories about the shutdown, and was struck by how very many of them prominently feature photos and articles about how the national parks, monuments, and museums have been closed for the duration. It’s nearly always the story lede. ┬áBut it’s a lot worse than people’s vacations that are being ruined – they’re also losing cancer treatments, among other outrages.

“Park Closed” stories distract from the real impact of the shutdown

The GOP-caused federal gov't shutdown isn't just ruining people's vacations.

The GOP-caused federal gov’t shutdown isn’t just ruining people’s vacations.

I get it: A “Park Closed Due to Federal Government Shutdown” is an easy visual. There’s no ambiguity. A good photographer might even be able to snag a shot of some pouting kid, disappointed because the National Air & Space Museum is closed.

But for the FSM*’s sake, where are our priorities?

(* = “Flying Spaghetti Monster”)

So the GOP has said they’ll relent and provide some standalone bills to keep parks open, keep the District of Columbia’s government running, and a bit of funding for the VA to keep processing the years-long backlog of unprocessed claims.

I’ll admit those last two are important… but really? National parks? That’s what rises to the level of GOP compromise and an urgently passed House bill? That’s what gets most of the press coverage?

Here’s a list of non-recreational effects of the GOP government shutdown

I’m going to list at least some of what else is happening:

  • Adults and children receiving treatment for cancer through the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are being sent away.
  • The National Institutes of Health (parent organization for the NCI) has shut down their hotlines and will not accept any new patients for clinical trials. This also includes kids with cancer, by the way, as well as patients involved in other clinical trials. Each week the shutdown goes on, an estimated 200 new patients will be turned away, 30 of them children.
  • 800,000 federal workers are furloughed without pay.
    • The EPA is essentially completely shut down — 94% of its workers are off the job.
    • The Center for Disease Control has furloughed 68% of its workers. Fantastic timing, with the autumn flu season almost upon us.
    • The Department of Defense has laid off about half of its staff — basically all of its civilian workers.
    • All but 38 of the FCC’s 1716 employees have been sent home. If Apple comes out with a new iPhone, it won’t receive FCC approval until the shutdown ends.
  • By the way, the various workers being told they must stay on the job — such as air traffic controllers, Social Security workers, and border security — are also being told in some cases they can’t necessarily count on being paid for their work during the shutdown.
  • Routine FDA safety inspections are suspended. (Meat inspections continue, though.)
  • FAA safety inspectors and NTSB accident inspectors are furloughed. Better not have any major plane crashes.
  • The Library of Congress, an invaluable tool for research, is closed. So is the National Archives and Records Administration.
  • No matter how serious a manufacturing flaw may be, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will not issue any automobile or truck recalls.
  • It’s hit or miss as to which ones, but many federally-run websites are offline. (Yeah, the ‘Panda-cam’ is off, too.)
  • Head Start programs throughout the country are shutting down.
  • All that cool news from the Curiosity rover on Mars? It stops. 97% of NASA is furloughed. Curiosity will be put to sleep. All NASA research stops.
  • Federally-funded SBA (Small Business Administration) loans stop.
  • Tax cheats: Guess what? Lucky you — no audits during the shutdown. On the other hand, if you have tax questions, don’t call — the IRS phone help lines aren’t being answered.
  • If you’ve lost your Social Security or Medicare card, you’re out of luck until the government restarts. Also, it’s very likely that new applications for benefits won’t be processed until then, too. Don’t bother asking for those income/benefit letters either.
  • Passport and Visa applications may be delayed.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), wherever federally funded, is suspended.
  • When WIC (the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) runs out of money at the state level, no more help there.
  • If the shutdown lasts longer than two or three weeks, the Veterans Administration says they won’t be able to keep paying benefits, beginning in November.
  • Gun owners: Your federal gun permit applications will be delayed. That get your attention?
  • The BATF won’t issue permits for new distilleries, wineries, or breweries.
  • New and pending drilling and mining permits are on hold.
  • Also likely, based on past shutdowns, bankruptcy cases, enforcement of child support (the feds get involved when it crosses state lines), and the training and certification of federal law enforcement officials will be suspended.
  • In fact, the DoJ will be filing briefs to suspend all civil (but not criminal) litigation for the duration.
  • Processing of federal aid requests resulting from the recent floods in Colorado and New Mexico, and any other disasters, will be suspended. (The National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers will intervene in emergencies, but after you’re dropped off at the Red Cross shelter, you’re on your own. Better have damned good insurance.)
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While public feelings about the Affordable Care Act (aka ‘Obamacare’) are mixed, there is no doubt about the polling on whether people want the Federal government shut down. And for America to default on its debts in a few weeks, just to weaken or repeal the ACA.

The American people are firmly against it, as in 72% opposed according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on 10/1, while just 22% think the shutdown is peachy-keen and a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

And the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Congressional Republicans. All they had to do was pass a clean Continuing Resolution bill, and raise the national debt ceiling — just like they used to do routinely during the Bush administration, with no strings attached.

Really, national parks, monuments, and museums being closed for a few days or even a month isn’t half as big a deal as all those people — 800,00 of them — who won’t know how they’re going to pay their mortgage or rent and pay their bills. Including all those federal employees who normally work at the parks, monuments, and museums. Plus let’s be sure to include all the businesses that depend on federal employee customers — they’re also S.O.L.

The damage of the shutdown on America’s economy is huge

Moody’s has estimated that a three or four week shutdown will cost the economy about $55 billion. Lost wages for Federal employees: About $1b a week. Another estimate I saw put the overall loss at about $12.5 million an hour. Goldman Sachs (yeah, I know… still, they do know numbers) has estimated that a three week shutdown will reduce the U.S. GDP by 0.9% — and we’ve only had anemic 2% growth so far this year. So there’s that.

Reopening national parks is nowhere near as urgent as dealing with interrupted cancer treatments. And it’s for damned sure the hit on America’s entire economy if this drags on — and, even worse if the GOP follows through with their threat to cause a default on the national debt — is far more important than a few thousand inconvenienced vacationers and tourists.

Update 2 October

It turns out the effects of the GOP government shutdown go on:

  • Domestic violence shelters in Montana and Vermont are no longer being reimbursed for their services; some throughout the country may be forced to close altogether.
  • 23 Head Start programs in 11 states are without funding. Preschools are closing.
  • The USDA’s program to help food banks through the Emergency Food Assistance Program has been suspended.
  • E-verify, the electronic system employers use to verify a possible employee’s eligibility for work (including whether or not the person is a citizen or eligible visa holder), is inoperative.
  • Washington State’s WIC program only has 9 more days of funding left.
  • Not only isn’t the IRS doing audits during the shutdown, they also cannot clear tax liens on properties, which is mucking up the real estate market. Also, if you’re due a tax refund, you won’t get it until the shutdown is over.
  • What I said yesterday about the NTSB not investigating plane crashes? Turns out I was right.
  • Seniors who want to apply for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can’t do so because the Social Security offices won’t supply the required proof of income letters.
  • Researchers at private universities are being told their continued funding is in jeopardy and work may need to be suspended beginning almost immediately.
  • The Do Not Call registry is down.
  • DNI James Clapper said at a Senate Judiciary Hearing that the shutdown was harming national security and intelligence gathering, because about 70% of the civilian employees of intelligence agencies have been laid off.
  • It turns out the military does take a hit. During the shutdown, there’s no imminent danger pay, no hardship duty pay, and no hazard duty incentive pay. They also won’t receive bonuses, anniversary payments, or tuition assistance. Also, promotion boards are all suspended. And military commissaries are closing, meaning our troops and their families have to pay more (i.e., full retail prices) for food and basic supplies. How’s that for a “thanks for your service” from the GOP?

Oh, and by the way? Republicans are split on whether or not to grant back-pay for furloughed federal workers. Needless to say, it’s the Tea Bagger contingent that wants the pain to go on for workers who’ve already had to endure unpaid furlough days caused by the sequester and a three year pay freeze.

As if that wasn’t a hearty enough F.U., there’s the (Diaper Dave) Vitter Amendment, which would strip all Congressional staffers — including the Republicans’ own people — of all health insurance benefits, and make them buy insurance on the PPACA exchanges, entirely out of their own pockets. Right now, Congress picks up 75% of insurance cost for these staffers, some of whom make as little as $28k a year, and the Obama plan was to keep that 75% coming. The Republicans couldn’t have that.

Want to know why heartless bastards like Senator Ted Cruz don’t care, and are willing to exploit their own staffers just to score political points? Here why:

Senator Ted Cruz's income statement from last year, showing he made over $1.7m (hat-tip to Jamison Foser, @jamisonfoser on Twitter

Senator Ted Cruz’s income statement from last year, showing he made over $1.7m (hat-tip to Jamison Foser, @jamisonfoser on Twitter


Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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