Closing for the first time in 17 years, the federal government shut down on Tuesday, leaving federally funded agencies in Boston closed and government employees furloughed indefinitely.
Kent Portney, professor of political science at Tufts University, said the government shutdown was brought about by the failure of Congress to pass a budget that is due Oct. 1 of each year. A definite budget is necessary for Congress to operate and pay its bills.
“The primary reason [why Congress failed to pass the budget] is that a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives decided that they would not vote to pass a budget unless Obamacare was defunded or at least delayed,” he said. “Democrats in [the] Senate refused to include this defunding or delay in their version of the budget, so nothing got passed.”
The debt ceiling is also looming, with only three weeks until the U.S. will default on its loans on Oct. 17, adding intensity to the present situation.
Some places that have closed on Tuesday include the USS Constitution, Faneuil Hall Visitor Center, Bunker Hill Monument, and John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
John Drew, president and CEO of Action Boston Community Development, said the lapse of funding puts organizations at risk of not being able to provide childcare or even heat to families with low incomes.
“The bottom line is that if the government shuts down, and there is no resolution, a lapse of funding occurs, which means we are at risk of [closing] and that is a position no one should be in,” he said. “We can’t rely on [the government] to get the resources necessary to help the people that we serve and that’s … high negligence from whoever in Congress is making this happen.”
The ABCD’s Head Start program, which provides working, low-income parents with childcare, will have to close if the shutdown lasts, forcing parents to stay home and lose work and wages.
“We have 22,000 children in our Head Start program,” Drew said. “If I can’t get the money from the government to run the program, I have to let the teachers go, and if I let the teachers go, the parents have to stay home with their kids because they don’t have childcare.”
Although he is uncertain of just how badly Boston’s economy will be hit, Portney said there is no question that it will be hurt to some extent, especially with tourist hotspots “Since Boston has a fair number of federal employees who must be furloughed and who will not earn an income during the furlough, consumer spending will likely decline,” Portney said. “There are specific federal services that will be affected, some of which, like national parks, support private businesses. When these facilities close, the supported businesses will suffer.”
If the shutdown persists, he said many important benefits such as Social Security and Medicaid will be delayed.
“If the impasse continues, it could conceivably delay receipt of benefit checks, such as veterans’ benefits, Social Security and SSI, as well as payments from the federal government to state governments, such as those for Medicaid, regional transit and many others,” Portney said.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, in a video of her remarks on the House floor, that leaders must have a real conversation about the federal budget because everyone loses when family budgets are tightened due to furloughs and lack of available services.
“With millions of people still out of work and an economic recovery that is still far too fragile,” she said. “Republicans have decided that the single most important issue facing our nation is to change the law so that employers can deny women access birth control coverage. We should be having a real debate about our budget, because we have real problems to solve.”
Chris Strang, 42, resident of Kenmore Square, said he thought the House was dealing with the Obamacare debate in the worst way.
“I don’t think [shutting down the government] is the appropriate way to address the situation,” he said. “They are kind of making a mess of things. But part of me wants people to see what idiots they are so that they can vote against them next time. If it’s for a couple days, it won’t have a great impact on our economy, but if it drags out it will.”
Drew said putting politics before people is unacceptable.
“I find it a height of irresponsibility to have a government, no matter what their reasons, willing to shut it down for political purposes,” he said. “[Even] when they’re going to jeopardize an awful lot of lives in this country.”