Preparing for federal shutdowns
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (at podium), Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and former congressman Steve Israel.

Courtesy photo

Preparing for federal shutdowns

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
1/31/2019


Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran appointed former congressman Steve Israel on Friday, Jan. 25, to lead a bi-county working group to help coordinate a regional response to the most recent federal government shutdown as well as future ones. 

The move, ironically, came just hours before President Donald Trump announced his support for a three-week funding measure that would reopen the parts of government that were closed under the shutdown until Feb. 15. 

The partial shutdown lasted 35 days, the longest of its kind in United States history, and left thousands of federal workers across Long Island without a paycheck for multiple weeks. Long Island is home to 16,000 federal jobs, according to Nassau County numbers, while 26,000 federal workers live on Long Island. 

Israel, who said he will go unpaid for his work, explained that the group would look to “cut through red tape” for federal workers struggling with the latest shutdown – and potentially ones like it in the future. “Everyone wants to do something,” Israel said. “The problem is, not everyone knows what everyone else is doing.” He said he would gather government officials, at all levels, along with representatives from various charities and social-service agencies, to help furloughed workers navigate through the process of being out of work. 

The former congressman cited an example where he wanted to donate gift cards to park rangers at the former Teddy Roosevelt estate, Sagamore Hill, who were going unpaid, but found that the process was more complicated than expected due to the agency’s ethics requirements. “The last thing we need to worry about now is red tape,” Israel added. “We will cut through the red tape working with our federal partners.” 

“I would like to think this working group will be out of business quickly because the federal government will be reopened,” Israel said, adding that in the 16 years he spent in the U.S. Congress, every time there was a possibility of a government shutdown, representatives were told that would be the last one. “And that was true until the next [shutdown],” Israel said. 

Since the partial government shutdown ended, this publication reached out to Bellone’s office to see if there have been any updates regarding the initiative. 

“While we remain hopeful that Washington reaches a budget deal in the coming weeks, we have a responsibility to prepare for the likelihood of future shutdowns,” said Derek Poppe, a spokesperson for Bellone’s office. 

On the day of the announcement, Bellone said that here on Long Island we have to deal with a fair share of “natural disasters,” citing Hurricane Sandy in 2012 as an example. Bellone went on to call the government shutdown a “manmade disaster” that is hurting thousands of residents, along with the regional economy.

“While we’re accustomed to dealing with natural disasters,” Bellone added, “we now must confront the reality that we have to coordinate and prepare for these manmade disasters—these government shutdowns that have occurred now on a more frequent basis.”

Bellone was perhaps referring to the previous government shutdown, the first under president Trump, which began on Jan. 20, 2018, and ended two days later. This shutdown resulted from lawmakers in Washington, D.C., failing to pass immigration and spending legislation by the government shutdown deadline. The longest shutdown prior to that occurred in 1995 under President Clinton.

The latest shutdown began on Dec. 22, 2018 over the president’s call for $5.7 billion in federal funds to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. The 35-day ordeal ended up costing the nation at least $6 billion, according to financial rating agency Standard & Poor’s. 

“Weekly costs widened beyond the average weekly cost of $1.2 billion,” the agency reportedly said. “Here, both direct costs on lost productivity from furloughed government workers and indirect costs from lost economic activity to outside businesses because of the shutdown, amplified with each week the government remained closed.” 

The Long Island Association, the leading business organization in the region, recently announced the federal shutdown cost Long Island $28 million a week in unpaid federal salaries. 

Since the government reopened, Trump has stated that if Congress doesn’t make a deal that includes funding for a border wall by Feb. 15, he will either shut the government down again or declare a national emergency and use military funding for the project. 

“Although this funding battle has ended, the next one starts in a few weeks, which may reduce growth expectations if businesses and financial markets begin to expect that Congress and the president will repeat the experience again and again,” Standard & Poor’s reportedly wrote in a statement. 

A recent poll conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal found that 50 percent of Americans blame the president for the recent shutdown, as opposed to 37 percent who blame Democrats in Congress. The same poll found that 52 percent of the country opposes a border wall, while 45 percent favor its construction.