Partial federal shutdown affects many workers and constituents in Cleveland
Partial federal shutdown affects many workers and constituents in Cleveland
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Politicians can’t shut down birds.
So Rich and Karen Schutz toted binoculars, a camera and a tripod Tuesday in search of snowy owls at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which remains open despite the federal government’s partial shutdown.
“I feel for the people that aren’t getting their paychecks,” Karen said about federal workers, who range locally from interpretive rangers at the park to engineers at NASA Glenn Research Center headquarters in Brook Park. “I kind of understand the issue with the border, but I don’t know if strong-arming is the way to go.”
Today is the 18th day of the shutdown, which President Trump imposed to pressure Congress for $5.7 billion for a wall on the nation’s southern border. Many federal workers took paid vacations during the holidays, so this week is the first for them to truly appreciate that lump of coal.
The federal government has shut down 20 times before, for up to 21 days at a stretch. In Greater Cleveland, which hosts big branches of a few federal agencies and small branches of many, the latest shutdown means very different things to different people.
Some federal employees are working and getting paid as usual. Some 380,000 employees are on furloughs. Some 420,000 are working without pay. Either way, their first cancelled paychecks would have been issued this Friday.
“It’s hitting them hard,” said Aaron Bankston, president of the American Federal Government Employees Local 614, which represents some 400 TSA workers still checking bags and passengers at Ohio airports. He said some are struggling to stave off creditors and may face evictions before long. But they can’t seek other paid jobs meanwhile because of their unpaid ones.
After past furloughs, Congress has given such workers back pay. But there’s never a guarantee.
The shutdown means different things to different local constituents, too. Some federal agencies are serving the public as usual here, predicting our lake-effect weather, handling nationwide benefits at the Defense Finance and Accounting Services, treating local patients at the Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, selling treasury bills at the Federal Reserve Bank and much more.
But many agencies are mostly closed, including the local offices of NASA, the Small Business Administration, and Housing and Urban Development. And others are open for certain matters only.
The U.S. District Court, for instance, is handling criminal cases as usual but delaying civil ones. Chief Judge Patricia Anne Gaughan said she may have to idle more workers and cases if the shutdown lingers.
Meanwhile, many national parks have remained open. No one could close the Cuyahoga Valley, anyway, because its roads are vital corridors for local communities from Brecksville to Akron, whose workers keep patrolling and maintaining them.
The park’s law enforcement rangers remain on duty patrolling the roads, woods and more. But interpretive rangers, maintenance workers and other employees are idled. The visitor centers and bathrooms are closed. The 125 miles of trails are open.
No one’s plowing or treating the parking lots, and they’ll be closed if snowed in, but they’ve been spared so far.
The park has closed two outlying sites: the Garfield presidential home in Mentor and the First Ladies site in Canton.
A Cuyahoga Valley employee, asking not to be identified, said, “You feel like you’re a pawn in somebody’s game. We’re deemed not-essential workers, but that doesn’t mean the work we do isn’t important and valuable to the American people. We’d just like everyone [in D.C.] to do their jobs so we can go back to doing our jobs.”
At home, money’s growing tighter. She went to get tires and learned that her coolant was leaking. “I keep a home equity line of credit open on my house, because I’ve gone through so many shutdowns.”
She said park visitors seem worried about the workers and the park. “I’ve had people text me and ask if they could come pick up trash. I can’t tell them either way, because I can’t have anything to do with work.”
Around the country, observers have said that trash, damage and accidents are mounting at the parks. Much of the Cuyahoga Valley appears as clean and serene as ever.
“It’s always beautiful here,” said Amy Williams, walking toward the 134-year-old Station Road Bridge.
But hiker Vicki Mastroianni has found more trash in the woods lately than usual, from water bottles to dirty diapers. “You would think people would take their trash out with them,” she said.
Before the shutdown, Andrew Addie of the Northeast Ohio Hiking Club reserved the Ledges Shelter for New Year’s Day. When he got there, he had to lug a fallen tree off the driveway. Then he found the shelter locked. He doesn’t know if his reservation fee will be refunded.
The park got a free cleanup near its headquarters Sunday from two youth groups: Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association and Kids of Cleveland.
But volunteers can’t test airplanes or design spaceships. So most of NASA Glenn has been grounded, sending home most of its 3,400 civil servants and contract workers.
The center used to be called NASA Lewis, as still reflected in the name of a union there: Lewis Engineers and Scientists Association Local 28 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. Last year, union president Sheila Bailey turned in the paperwork to retire from NASA on Dec. 31. Now she doesn’t know if she’s retired or not. She can’t find out if the paperwork’s been processed.
Said Bailey, “It daunts my mind that we could have a government whose single job is to run the government and they can’t manage that.”
Bailey said the shutdown tends to hurt younger workers harder. “They live paycheck to paycheck, with student loans to pay.” She said that past furloughs have driven some good Glenn scientists into the private workforce.
Politicians can’t shut down space. Bailey warned that delaying research and preparations by a few weeks could delay a launch to Mars by two years, since such a launch would be timed to that planet’s orbit.
Bailey says the shutdown costs taxpayers far more than it saves them. Studies have shown that NASA’s expenditures are returned to the economy six-fold to eight-fold, partly to private industry in outsourcing and technology. For instance, technology developed at Glenn propels every airplane.
During past furloughs, longtime NASA materials scientist Bruce Banks worked an assembly line, did research for a private business and more. Now he’s a contract employee, continuing some of his research at home and being paid accordingly.
Material samples prepared by Banks continue to fly on arms of the International Space Station. But he can’t see the usual transmissions of photos to tell how those materials are standing up and use those results to design samples for future tests.
Carlos Grodinsky is chairman of the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Council and chief operating officer of ZIN Technologies in Middleburg Heights, a big contractor for NASA and the military. He says that ZIN’s contracts have been funded through January or longer, and federal officials have minimized the disruption to contractors so far.
Still, the longer and more frequent the shutdowns, the more they hurt workers and constituents alike. Says Glenn researcher Kim de Groh, “It’s less science and research that gets accomplished and being shared with the public.”
Advance Ohio reporter Eric Heisig contributed to this story.