Questioning the fundamental usefulness of government is the backbone of some American political factions, notably including the now seldom-mentioned Tea Party. Most of these righteous skeptics don’t live off the grid in libertarian enclaves or hatch anarchist plots. Instead, they are good people all around in every community, wondering what the heck all our taxes and deficits pay for.
No matter whether a U.S. citizen is anti-government or not, we all will be increasingly noticing just what government does, now that a significant fraction of it has been turned off by a political squabble.
Any attempted discussion of the ongoing partial federal government shutdown inevitably ignites bitter infighting between those who believe President Trump can do no wrong and those who think he’s a lightweight conman doing the bidding of radical talk-show hosts. However, here in this mutually reliant West Coast enclave so far removed from the Eastern elite, we need not and should not resort to useless finger pointing. It’s fair to say that nobody in Washington, D.C. gives a moment’s thought to local political analysis in the form of angry Facebook posts.
What we must do is mitigate harm to local people and assets, while calmly pulling toward future election results that put an end to these ridiculous and damaging shenanigans. In these maritime communities, one of our most immediate concerns must be for members of the U.S. Coast Guard and their families, who face the increasingly real prospect of not receiving January pay on time. Thankfully, a sense of duty and honor keeps them focused on their principal seasonal mission of helping Dungeness crabbers stay safe. The helicopters and motor lifeboats continue coming and going from the mouth of the Columbia, safeguarding lives and a vital part of our economy.
It’s important that we extend every courtesy to our Coasties. Although it won’t in every case be easy to do so, landlords, local utilities, lenders and others will earn the community’s lasting gratitude by extending deadlines and waiving late fees for the hundreds of Coast Guard families who are stuck in a financial mess not of their own making.
Although their numbers are fewer, the same goes for employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and other federal agencies with a presence here. As is true elsewhere in the nation, private contract employees are out of work, too — and can’t expect back pay when the shutdown ends. All deserve our help and encouragement. We hope they won’t hesitate to let community leaders know if they can use help in obtaining dispensations, so that we may engage on their behalf.
Beyond the stark impacts of the government shutdown on some federal workers, this situation threatens to delay payments to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. More than 37,000 households in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District and 43,500 in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District receive this aid.
Around half of these households include one or more disabled people, more than 40 percent include children, and around one-third contain senior citizens.
While this sorry situation grinds on, we all must do our best to help with local food drives, and contribute cash to food banks so they can address what is certain to be a surge in requests for help. State legislators and agencies may need to shuffle spending priorities to ensure our fellow citizens don’t go hungry.
Much remains uncertain, starting with whether the shutdown will be allowed to go on for months — as the president has suggested. How will lack of federal salaries and aid reverberate in the local economy, as spending on everything from groceries to cups of coffee begins to dwindle? Is it time to convene emergency community meetings to plan responses?
As a young Astorian commented early this week, “a lot of people will go without and we need to pull together to help decrease the pandemonium.”
It turns out that the U.S. government does many valued things, even on this remote and self-sufficient coast. Even those who aren’t crabbers or related to one must appreciate the extent to which federal spending supports our most valuable fishery, saving lives while also protecting our coast from other kinds of harm. Few, we hope, would be so Darwinian as to think disabled people and children in disadvantaged households should simply go hungry. Even the president’s most avid supporters must see the unfairness of asking agents of Customs and Immigration Enforcement to do their work without any guarantee of timely paychecks.
This shutdown, like those in the past, will eventually be resolved. It’s likely most furloughed employees will receive back pay — even those who, unlike the Coast Guard and ICE, aren’t still actively on duty. But we should be sure to elect people to Congress and the White House who are prepared to maturely and sensibly confront our national spending addiction, border protection and other priorities without resorting to destructive gamesmanship.
Shutdowns are a ridiculously blunt weapon, when what we really need are national leaders ready to make intelligent decisions.