Queens Reacts To U.S. Gov. Shutdown

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

While many may not seem to be affected by this week’s federal government shutdown, the longer it continues, the worse things may get for Queens, the City and the nation.

The Queens Economic Development Corporation said that it is still operating at full strength, but the longer the shutdown goes on, the greater the chance of damage occurring to the organization and the Borough.

“So far, everything is okay. QEDC continues to offer all the services that we offered before the shutdown,” Rob MacKay, director of public relations at QEDC, said. “However, our ability to apply for federal grants and our access to certain federal workers are on hold. So time is not on our side, and I hope the politicians can resolve their issues as soon as possible.”

The Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate could not come to an agreement for a budget or short-term spending measure to fund federal agencies by the Sept. 30 deadline, leading to an Oct. 1 shutdown. Ideological differences between the parties got in the way of negotiations, bringing the process to a grinding halt.

On Monday, the last day the two government bodies had a chance to work out an agreement, the House repeatedly sent a spending resolution to the Senate that would either defund or delay the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly referred to as Obamacare. The Senate rejected that section of the resolution, sending the rest of the text back to the House. This back-and-forth has continued with no end in sight, as of press time.

The shutdown, the first one since December 1995, has resulted in the loss of several services throughout the nation. About 800,000 workers are furloughed indefinitely without pay, while 1.3 million employees considered to be essential will continue to work, although their paychecks may be delayed.

National parks and museums are closed, including the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The closure has cancelled many events planned at the refuge, such as a walk to see migrating hawks that was scheduled by Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society.

“The people I most feel sorry for are the visitors from other countries who come to see our National Parks. They spent a lot of money for nothing,” Riepe said. “There needs to be a law stating that the government can’t shut down for political reasons. A handful of extremist politicians [are] holding us hostage.”

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program, which lets businesses check on the legal immigration status of possible employees, has been shut down. The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development can no longer send out payments to the nation’s 3,300 public housing authorities, though most of them have enough funding to last a month or two. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stopped its seasonal flu program.

While Social Security payments are still being sent out, other functions of the Social Security Administration, such as replacing benefit cards or scheduling hearings for disability cases, are delayed for the length of the shutdown.

Throughout Queens, members of the public voiced displeasure with the shutdown, but others believed it would not last long enough to cause any significant problems.

“Congress sucks,” one Forest Hills resident said.

“It will only be two or three days,” countered another man from the neighborhood.

Steve from Woodhaven mentioned that the nation has gotten through many shutdowns before and that it is “not the end of the world.”

“We’re going to survive it. It’s happened many times before. I remember it happened one time in the 70s and I didn’t even realize it happened. It lasted about eight days and nobody noticed it,” he said. “Maybe we should do it every year. Cut their salaries a couple of months out of the year and then continue. They don’t seem to do that much. Do they know what they’re doing?”

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.