ST. LOUIS -- The federal government shutdown's day-to-day impact on Americans -- both federal employees and the people who depend on the services they provide -- shifts radically from workplace to workplace and neighbor to neighbor. On one side of the divide, the shutdown is inescapable; on the other, it is all but invisible.
Some large-scale ordeals, like a recession, are pervasive, quickly seeping into the national psyche. But the fallout from this stoppage is wildly uneven, zigzagging across communities and workplaces in unexpected ways, fracturing Americans' reactions to the shutdown as well as the ways they experience it.
The scattershot nature of what is funded and what is not is also varying the experience of public-sector workers and private citizens. Agencies including the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs and Social Security are operating because of appropriations bills that already passed. Others like Homeland Security, Justice, State, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection, and Commerce are not.
Military bases are open, Social Security checks are going out, and GI benefits are being processed. But farmers affected by the tariffs are unable to apply for emergency aid; tenants who depend on federal housing subsidies to cover their rent are facing eviction; private contractors working for the federal government are not getting paid, and rural homeowners and businesses who need a mortgage extension or guarantee cannot get one.
In Boulder, Colo., where hives of researchers, engineers and scientists are variously funded by universities, private businesses, nonprofit organizations and the federal government, the effects can diverge from one desk to the next.
Depending on who is providing the cash or sponsoring the research, colleagues who normally work side by side have vastly different prospects.
The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder. The staff there falls, in essence, into three camps, explained Waleed Abdalati, the institute's director.
Worst off are people employed directly by the federal government who cannot work and are not getting a paycheck. Then there are those paid by the university whose income is intact but who are locked out of their federal offices and may even be temporarily cut off from their research data.
The last group comprises university professors, researchers, students and others who are unconnected with the government's work. For them, Abdalati said, it's: "Shutdown? What shutdown? I am not feeling anything."
In St. Louis, furloughed employees at the Agriculture Department's rural development program coped in different ways. Patricia Battle, an accountant, was keeping the thermostat down in the home she shares with her husband, a veteran; her college-age son; and her 10-year-old grandson.
"I've been wearing layers in the house," said Battle, who earns about $70,000 a year. "Sweaters, warm clothes and two pairs of socks."
And Rick Willenberg, 31, who earns $41,000 a year as a loan processor for the rural development program, is worrying about how to pay his own mortgage bill.
"It's so arbitrary," he said. He had never before applied for unemployment insurance, but when he heard President Donald Trump say the shutdown could go on for "months or even years," he said, "I thought I better go ahead and file."
Both he and his older brother, Steve Willenberg -- who lives in a nearby suburb with his family -- were drawn to work for the government out of a sense of civic duty, nurtured by a mother who is a nurse and a father who worked for General Motors. "We live pretty identical lives," Rick said.
Except that the Department of Veterans Affairs, where Steve works processing benefits, is funded. So while his younger brother protested the furlough outside the federal office complex in wind-whipped weather, Steve was enjoying the last day of his scheduled paid vacation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where he swam with dolphins and drank pina coladas by the beach.
"For the months of January and February, my department is on mandatory overtime of 20 hours a month" to correct widespread delays in benefit payments caused by computer glitches, said Steve Willenberg. "Compare that to my brother not knowing when his next paycheck is going to come."
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser (right) congratulates soon-to-be newlyweds Friday after signing the LOVE act allowing couples to get married in the District despite the government shutdown during a ceremony at Bancroft Elementary School in Washington.
A Section on 01/12/2019
Print Headline: Shutdown's toll uneven across U.S.