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Hundreds of Federal Employees Shut Down in Humboldt 

North Coast services brace for impact, should impasse continue into February

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In one of his first acts with the newly seated House of Representatives, North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman joined his Democrat colleagues in voting to pass two bills to end the federal government shutdown.

The votes — one to fund the Department of Homeland Security into February as lawmakers seek out a compromise on President Trump's demands of $5.7 billion to construct a wall along the nation's southern border and the other to fund the balance of federal departments through the end of the year — were largely symbolic, of course, as Trump hasn't budged on his demands and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring any funding bill to a vote that the president hasn't promised to sign.

The day following the votes, Huffman was back in his home district, picking up trash in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is run by the National Park Service. Working with Rep. Jackie Speier, Huffman filled two 32-gallon trashcans with what he dubbed "Trump trash" and planned to deliver the trash to the White House on Jan. 8, shortly before Trump was slated to address the nation.

The congressman has been withering in his criticism of the president and his demands for border wall funding.

"I voted to end President Trump's callous shutdown and reopen the government," he said in a statement issued after the Jan. 4 votes. "President Trump and his Republican allies in the Senate are cheapening public service, when they should be showing our federal workers the dignity and respect they deserve by reopening the government and providing these workers with the pay they earned."

In addition to hundreds of federal employees in Humboldt County who are working without a paycheck, there are a host of programs that rely on federal funding. It seems most are operating on reserves but many indicate they are bracing for impact should the shutdown continue into next month.

Nationwide, there are approximately 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown, with some forced to work without pay while others have simply been directed to stay home. Humboldt County is home to about 1,500 federal workers, according to Cheston McGuire, spokesperson for the American Federation of Government Employees, spread across the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies. McGuire said his union still doesn't know how many of those locals are furloughed or working without pay.

Journal attempts to ascertain the full impact of the shutdown on Humboldt County workers have similarly been unsuccessful. At some agencies there was simply no one available to pick up the phone and field media inquiries, while others sent reporters' calls back to Washington D.C., where spokespeople issued generic statements and declined to offer specifics.

What we do know is that the more than 200 local members of the U.S. Coast Guard feared they wouldn't be paid as scheduled Dec. 28, having been warned to prepare for the worst and inquire about short-term loans and mortgage deferments, but were granted a last-minute reprieve when Coast Guard officials and the administration worked out a stop-gap measure that allowed the agency to make payroll. However, Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray warned in a department-wide email that there wouldn't be money to issue checks for service members next pay day — Jan. 15 — should the shutdown continue.

The median American household has $11,700 in savings, according to a survey from the personal finance site MagnifyMoney.com, which also found that the median savings for the bottom 40 percent of American households by income is $0. A report last year from CareerBuilder.com, meanwhile, found that 78 percent of full-time workers across the nation report living paycheck to paycheck.

But federal employees are only one side of the shutdown coin; there are also those who rely on federal services and federal funding.

The New York Times reported this week that the administration has ordered the Internal Revenue Service to issue tax returns — something that had been in doubt — meaning that early filers will be due to receive their returns as scheduled but the employees cutting the checks will be working without pay.

Then there are locally administered programs that rely on federal funds. Most notable among these are CalFresh, which provides food assistance to low-income households, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides nutrition and health care referrals for low-income new mothers and their children, up to the age of 5, and CalWORKs, which provides temporary financial assistance and employment services to low-income families. All three operate on federal funds, though they are administered through the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services.

According to DHHS spokesperson Christine Messinger, CalFresh served 20,082 local individuals in November, while CalWORKs provided assistance to 3,830 people that same month in Humboldt County. WIC, meanwhile, averages about 3,360 clients per month.

Messinger told the Journal that CalFresh and WIC both have funding into February. If the shutdown persists beyond then, she said California could opt to continue providing its portion of benefits until it ends. She said she expects CalWORKs benefits to continue, noting that through previous shutdowns the state has used reserves to continue providing benefits.

The Humboldt Senior Resource Center and Food for People, meanwhile, also rely on federal funds to offer their programs. Both organizations have indicated they have yet to see any disruption in funding, though they are fearful that may change should the shutdown stretch on.

As for what impact the shutdown is having on local tribes, some of which rely on federal funds to administer a variety of programs, from medical services to childcare, Journal attempts to get on-the-record information from local tribes were largely unsuccessful by deadline.

During the 2013 shutdown, however, the Yurok Tribe temporarily shut down its childcare facility and furloughed its 60 employees for two weeks. But so far, the tribe remains operating at full capacity, according to Executive Director Javier Kinney.

"The Yurok Tribe, the largest tribe in California, provides essential and direct services that will be impacted in the event of an extended federal government shutdown," Kinney said in a statement. "Currently, the tribal government is running at full capacity. If a protracted shutdown occurs, we are prepared to implement a plan, prioritizing the health and welfare of the Yurok people, to continue operations at a reduced level."

Meanwhile, Blair Kreuzer, director of Two Feather Native American Family Services in McKinleyville, said services there have so far been unaffected but indicated that may change. Mike Sawyer of Potawot Health Village said the facility has been similarly untouched thus far.

As to Huffman and his trash bags, it's worth noting that while he spent time in the southern part of his district picking up refuse on National Park Service land, Redwood National and State Park — by far Humboldt County's most notable attraction — remains open. Additionally, California State Parks has extended trash removal and restroom cleaning services to the federally owned portions of the park.

For his part, Huffman has adamantly referred to the shutdown as a "political stunt" by the president, who has insisted the border wall is a matter of national security and necessary to keep immigrants and drug smugglers from illegally crossing the border.

"As the shutdown continues, President Trump is placing American families, federal employees, diplomats, Coast Guard service members, small businesses, Indian Country and national parks in jeopardy," he said in a statement. "I urge Mitch McConnell and President Trump to put the interests of the American people over this ridiculous request for a border wall and allow Congress to get back to the business of governing."

While the impacts of the shutdown have so far been largely invisible in Humboldt County to those who don't draw a federal paycheck, it seems that could change quickly should the impasse continue into February.

"We encourage Democrats and Republicans to expeditiously end the federal government shutdown," Kinney, of the Yurok Tribe, said in his statement.

Freddy Brewster and Tony Wallin contributed to this report.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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About The Author

Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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