Washington — Terence Ward has worked for the U.S. Justice Department for 28 years and plans to continue to do so, but after next Friday, he and all 22 employees of the federal public defender’s office in Connecticut will work without pay if the government shutdown continues.
As the lead attorney for the Office of Federal Public Defender in Hartford, Ward is considered an ”essential employee” of the justice department, one of the federal agencies affected by the partial shutdown. The other attorneys and staff of the federal public defender’s office are considered essential too, and they must also work without pay. That upsets Ward.
“People have student loans, they have mortgages. People should not have to worry about meeting their day-to-day expenses,” he said.
Employees of the federal public defender’s office are among about 1,500 federal workers in Connecticut affected by the shutdown. Some, like Ward and his staffers, will continue to work without pay. Others, deemed “non-essential,” will continue to stay home as the shutdown drags into a second week, the services they provide unavailable until it ends.
On Wednesday, there was no indication the partial shutdown – the result of a bitter standoff between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats — would end anytime soon. The longer it lasts, the more its effects will be felt — not only in the Washington D.C. area, home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees, but in every state, including Connecticut.
That’s because the Antideficiency Act prohibits the federal government from spending money if it is not appropriated by Congress. However, many federal agencies affected by the partial shutdown, including the Coast Guard, were able to meet one last payroll using money appropriated by Congress, but unspent, in previous years, or that came from other sources. That extra money will not cover the next paycheck, scheduled for Jan. 11, for most of the affected agencies.
While the largest federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare, will continue undisturbed by the shutdown, those applying for or renewing a passport, seeking a Small Business Administration loan, or needing advice from the Internal Revenue Service will be out of luck. Some of those services have already been suspended and others will soon be.
Those trying to purchase a new home may also have to wait until the partial shutdown ends.
Loans made through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA,) VA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can move forward despite the shutdown.
However, the loans may not be completed because the IRS, part of another unfunded agency — the U.S. Treasury Department — cannot provide key tax return transcripts and income verification information.
Also, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, part of the now-shuttered Department of Homeland Security, has stopped writing the flood insurance policies that mortgage companies require of those who want to buy a coastal home or a house near other bodies of water.
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of the federal agencies affected by the shutdown, Bryan Hurlburt, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, said the shutdown hasn’t yet been felt by the state’s agriculture community – but soon will be.
That’s because the many state farmers are dependent on the USDA for financial help to buy seed and equipment for the upcoming planting season.
“As farmers are planning their year, access to USDA loans or loan guarantees are very vital to their 2019 crops,” Hurlburt said. “Apples, dairy, corn, tobacco, fruit…all these require start-up capital at the beginning of the season.”
He said farmers will need to have those loans in hand by the end of January or early February to successfully plan for the 2019 growing season.
Shutdown for ‘as long as it takes’
Part of the federal government shut down at midnight on Dec. 22 because there was no agreement on a budget for a number of agencies that had not yet been funded by Congress for fiscal year 2019.
A major sticking point in that budget battle was, and still is, Trump’s demand for $5 billion to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Besides the Justice Department, the USDA, and the Department of Homeland Security, affected agencies include State, Transportation, Commerce, Interior and Housing and Urban Development.
Some independent agencies, including NASA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, are also closed. The shutdown of the EPA means some of the federal grants the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection depends on are also threatened.
With no new funding from the Justice Department, Connecticut’s federal court could curtail or postpone civil cases, but criminal cases would move forward unless the shutdown drags on for weeks.
Like federal court employees, FBI employees in the state remain at work with no pay, although a call Wednesday to the FBI’s office in New Haven was answered by a man who said “we’re closed.”
On Wednesday, Trump shrugged off any urgency to bring a close to the shutdown, saying the budget lapse would continue “as long as it takes.”
The new Congress, with a Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, will be gaveled in on Thursday. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who hopes to be elected House Speaker on the first day of Congress, said she will hold a vote on legislation that would immediately reopen the government.
It would fund all agencies, except the Department of Homeland Security, until the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.
But the legislation would only fund the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 8, so discussions with the White House over funding for the border wall could continue. Trump has rejected the plan, which would separate the conflict over the border wall from the other outstanding government funding bills.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday the Senate will not take up the House Democrats’ bill.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest union representing federal employees, filed a lawsuit this week against the government seeking damages for the roughly 400,000 federal employees forced to work without pay during the partial shutdown.