By Eric Heinz
Congressman Mike Levin, D-California, made his first strides on Capitol Hill with the lights turned on but the bills not paid.
The 116th U.S. Congress started in the midst of a politically charged shutdown that has become record-length as it entered its 31st day and tensions continue to rise within the federal government.
President Donald Trump has held his ground up to the point of making some concessions that he’s tried to make look attractive to his Democrat counterparts, but the immediate effect on local employees of the federal government is starting to emerge on social media through stories people have shared and by local efforts.
In Levin’s district, the California 49th that stretches from San Juan Capistrano to Vista, he said there are thousands of federal employees. Levin says he’s been in contact with federal workers who are either working without pay or staying home while the shutdown continues to trudge on.
“I’ve actually spoken to quite a few, and the stories are heartbreaking, one gentleman who’s a veteran, another was unable to process food stamps for people because the USDA is not fully operational,” Levin said.
Federal food assistance programs are expected to run out of funding by February, but there are reports that some local grocers and businesses may not accept them if they can’t be redeemed in a timely fashion.
IRS returns, the conditions of National Forest Service land and other areas of the federal government deemed “non-essential” have been either shut down or operated unfunded.
“There’s a big local impact, and people need to be mindful, one-third of the federal workforce impacted by this are veterans,” Levin said. “That’s one of the untold stories.”
It’s one thing to work across the aisle and compromise, but Trump’s unwillingness to budge on the budget has kept things gridlocked in the House. On Saturday, Jan. 19, Trump announced he would offer three-year extensions to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in exchange for $5.7 billion for the southern border wall, but it doesn’t appear that will be enough.
“One of the things I’ve said to Republicans willing to listen is that I support smarter border security, like new drug (detection) and weapons-scanning technology at the ports of entry because people need to realize that 80 to 90 percent of (illegal materials) are seized at ports of entry and not between the ports where (Trump) wants to build the wall,” he said.
Levin said he if he were to introduce a bill for funding such technology in a “normal political environment” that such bills would pass “overwhelmingly.”
Levin said right out of the gate he’s introduced bills that would reopen the government in part, a piecemeal plan that other congress members have tried. Levin recently introduced a bill that would reinstate funding for disaster response to California’s massive wildfires. He mentioned that the Republican caucus introduced a bill to keep the government at least running while negotiations continued, but 800,000 federal employees are still not receiving pay.
“The president hopefully will begin to understand the human toll that this is taking on hundreds of thousands of Americans and an even greater number indirectly affected, including the hundreds of thousands of veterans and government contractors,” he said.
Reports and cries for compromise sought to offer Trump half of the funding he’s asked for border security in order to reopen the government, but Levin said that’s just fodder.
“Ultimately, we’re not going to negotiate this on border security side until we open the rest of the government,” Levin said. “We can’t set that precedent for every time we disagree. That is not how democracy is supposed to happen.”
Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County is offering support to federal workers during the federal government shutdown, and Family Assistance Ministries, located at 1040 Calle Negocio, will host a drop-off point for people to donate food. Call 855.233.3362 for more information.
Article corrected to reflect the proper drop-off location.