By JEFF GUILLOT //
One thing I drill into the collective consciousness of students every semester is that the role of the federal government in your daily life is minimal, compared to state and local governments.
In normal, peaceful times, the average citizen only interacts with the federal government if they are interacting with the military or the immigration system. Virtually every other element of your day-to-day interactions with government are at more localized levels, which always get less media attention.
Of course, these are not normal times. As we all know, the federal government is mired in the longest shutdown in our nation’s history.
The way I understand it, President Trump is trying to replace the Statue of Liberty as the endearing symbol of American freedom and inclusiveness with a useless steel barrier along our Mexican border. Regardless of your viewpoint on the wall, every minute the shutdown rages on, the federal government’s day-to-day impact on Long Islanders increases, as more vital programs linked to federal funding evaporate.
It’s critical to for all Long Islanders to realize that this shutdown is not just something that deeply affects whether or not a mess of steel and concrete is erected in Texas. It is already having lasting and powerful socioeconomic effects on the Island. Some examples:
- The shutdown will have an effect on the farming industry nationwide. This is the time of year farmers file for federal assistance or request foreign workers under the H2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program. The Long Island Farm Bureau believes that if the shutoff continues for any length of time, there will be serious ramifications for the 585 farms in Suffolk County.
- Many federal agencies are operating at limited capacity. Marc Lamaina, owner of Lucharitos of Greenport and Little Lucharitos of Aquebogue, has an application for a new location waiting at the Small Business Administration that he says is completed, lacking only an approving signature – something he’ll just have to wait for until the shutdown is resolved. Long Island small businesses employ 372,654 people, and a lot of them could be affected by the lack of movement at the SBA.
- National parks all over the country are closed or without workers. Here on Long Island, Sagamore Hill – Teddy Roosevelt’s home – has been closed and tours have been canceled. Patrons who bought tickets in advance have to wait until the shutdown is over to receive their refunds. This will likely have a similar impact on attendance at all New York State National Parks, which last year drew more than 19 million visitors.
- While active-duty U.S. Coast Guard officers are still working, they’re not sure of when they’ll get their next paycheck. So on the Long Island Sound, boats are not being boarded to check for safety equipment and cargo ships are not being inspected for environmental or safety violations. This could easily affect the more than 91,000 boats registered in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
- TSA agents and air marshals all over the country are awaiting their next paychecks, which is leading to longer lines and understaffing at New York airports. Many safety inspectors are no longer working, forcing many to choose between paying their bills or paying for groceries. Over 5,000 people fly through Long Island MacArthur Airport every day, and these conditions will likely impede their travel.
- While this shutdown may be about getting money for the wall and other border security, it has also implications for immigrants already living on Long Island. Many are awaiting their citizenship hearings and will now have their court cases further delayed, maybe up to a year. Nassau and Suffolk County are among the top 10 counties nationwide for immigration case backlog, including 23,000 pending cases.
- New York is currently experiencing a shortage of the shingles vaccine. United States Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is urging the FDA to declare an emergency, work with the manufacturer and try hard to overcome any red tape to best deliver these vaccines so there is not an outbreak of shingles or chickenpox – which could prove deadly for some of the 285,071 Suffolk residents and 300,000 Nassau residents over age 60.
When will the music stop and the stalemate end? Maybe today. Maybe Valentine’s Day. Maybe Palm Sunday. But two things are incontrovertible: Your neighbors are hurting now, and none of this has anything to do with immigration policy.
Leaders from both sides of the political aisle need to hammer out a deal to stop the battle over a barrier 3,000 miles away – a battle that’s having dreadful economic impacts just one mile away.