The Shutdown By The Numbers: It’s Time For Congress To Get Real

This shutdown is getting real.  We’re now into week three, two days away from default, and it’s hard to find anyone in Maine who hasn’t been affected. 

At first, for many of us, the shutdown seemed more like an inconvenience than a catastrophe.  Hikers and bikers bound for Acadia found the park gates closed, disrupting their vacation plans. Those hoping to visit federal websites found banners stating that the information was no longer being updated.  Employees with discrimination claims before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) learned that investigation of their cases would be delayed, because the EEOC was down to only 5% of its workforce.

But as the federal shutdown drags on, it has hit Mainers in a very real way.  Here are a few numbers to quantify just how big an impact the shutdown is having on workers – and businesses – here in Maine.

  • 0.  That’s how much federal workers who are still at work are getting paid during the shutdown.  Many federal employees, like Customs and Border Protection officers working on the Maine/Canada border, are considered “essential” and so are required to report to work (and deemed “AWOL” if they don’t), but they still don’t receive a paycheck.
  • 1.  The number of states that have taken the drastic step of declaring a “civil state of emergency” in response to the federal shutdown, the move taken by Governor LePage last Wednesday.  The Governor’s office said the declaration would give it more flexibility to deal with financial implications of the shutdown and would allow workers to get unemployment benefits more quickly.  However, many are questioning that rationale.  Chris Quint, executive director for the Maine State Employees Association, called the Governor’s surprise announcement a “nuclear bomb” and expressed concern that the Governor was trying to bypass provisions of the state’s collective bargaining agreement.
  • 5.  Maine’s ranking in a recent study that ranks how severely each state is being impacted by the shutdown. That puts us right below Washington DC – no other New England state even ranked in the top 20.  The unusually severe impact on Maine  has been attributed in part to the state’s high percentage of seniors and veterans, who depend on federally funded programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits. 
  • 8.  The percentage of Americans who approve of Congress, according to a recent poll.  As the poll revealed, hemorrhoids, cockroaches, and toenail fungus currently enjoy a higher approval rating than Congress. 
  • 34.  The number of workers at Togus VA who were sent home last week on furlough.  Add that to 200 federal employees at Acadia, 400 National Guardsmen in Maine, 44 Department of Defense employees, and on and on…   
  • 2,379.  The number of state workers in Maine whose positions are at least partially funded by the federal government and may be furloughed as a result.  Last Monday, the LePage administration announced 52 temporary layoffs at the Disability Determination Office in Winthrop, in addition to furloughs of four employees in the Department of Health and Human Services and three in the Department of Labor.  If the shutdown continues, that may be just the tip of the iceberg.

So, maybe Governor LePage got it right, at least in name.  We are living in a state of emergency, albeit one that does not call for allowing the Governor to toss out collective bargaining agreements.  For many workers, in Maine and across the country, this shutdown is all too real.  It’s time for members of Congress to step out of their bubble, put aside their egos, and truly listen to the people they represent.  

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