More Americans are starting to feel the impact of a partial government shutdown as a budget standoff between the White House and Democrats over funding for President Donald Trump’s controversial U.S.-Mexico border wall remained unresolved.
The shutdown, in its 14th day on Friday, has affected nine cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, forcing about 420,000 federal employees whose jobs are deemed essential to work without pay, while 380,000 others were asked to take unpaid leave.
“Many federal employees live paycheck to paycheck,” said Dorothy James, vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), in a statement. “They are now uncertain how long they will have to stretch it.”
Lila Johnson, a 71-year-old janitor working on a contract basis for the federal government, said she won’t receive any back pay for the time missed during the shutdown.
“My rent has to be paid. My other bills like my credit cards and loans that I own, that’s doubling up on me … It’s hard,” she said in an interview with CNN.
Business owners in Washington D.C. said they have seen a decline in business due to fewer tourists since a number of the capital’s must-sees, including the Smithsonian Institution’s museums and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, closed earlier this week.
Lovers of giant pandas are feeling the pain. The beloved live Panda Cam at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo has been turned off, leaving Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Bei Bei, whose daily lives have been broadcast online around the clock for years, without an audience.
“The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is closed due to a federal government shutdown. The zoo’s live animal cams require federal resources, primarily staff, to run and broadcast. They are deemed non-essential and will not stream live until the federal government reopens,” the zoo said on its website.
“All the animals continue to be fed and cared for,” it added.
National parks across the country have also taken a hit. Some remained open but unstaffed, with restrooms and campgrounds closed, and several parks face the problem of overflowing trash and human waste.
Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose resignation was effective from Wednesday, said Friday that national park visitors should “grab a trash bag and take some trash out,” amid calls to close all national parks to protect them from possible damage.
On the West Coast, San Francisco Mayor London Breed complained that the shutdown has caused additional burden on the employees of the city’s Public Works, a department responsible for the care and maintenance of San Francisco’s streets and infrastructure.
“The federal government was already asking cities to cover for a lack of resources to build affordable housing and address homelessness, and now we’re picking up their trash too,” Breed tweeted Friday.
Trump said Friday that he is prepared for a partial government shutdown to last for months or years, after his meeting with congressional leaders yielded no deal over funding for the wall.
Speaking to reporters from the White House Rose Garden, Trump said he would not reopen the government until a dispute between the White House and Democrats over border security is settled.
“We won’t be opening until it’s solved. We think this is a much bigger problem,” he said.
Trump added that it is a problem of national security, while signaling a possibility that he would use emergency powers to build the wall without congressional approval and necessary funds.
About a quarter of the federal government shut down last month due to an impasse between the White House and Congress over whether to provide billions of U.S. dollars for the construction of a border wall, a signature promise Trump made during his presidential campaign.
Trump and his conservative allies have insisted that the wall is essential to addressing illegal immigration and drug trafficking, while Democrats have slapped the proposal as an “inefficient, unnecessary and costly” solution to strengthening border security.
The president dug in on his proposal on Friday. “We have to get a structure built,” he said, while attempting to strike a positive tone about his meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House, the second time in three days.
Democrats were less upbeat. Newly elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours Friday, was “lengthy and sometimes contentious,” though she admitted progress has been made.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after the meeting with Republicans that “a bunch of issues” were discussed but “it’s very hard to see how progress will be made unless they open up the government.”
The White House confirmed later in the day that staffers from both chambers of Congress will attend a follow-up meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Saturday.
House Democrats passed a spending package Thursday night, including a stopgap bill to keep the Homeland Security Department funded at the current level until Feb. 8, and measures to fund the eight other cabinet departments affected by the shutdown through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
However, those measures are unlikely to clear the Republican-held Senate or be signed by Trump as they do not provide money for the proposed border wall. Enditem