Americans take stock of shutdown’s everyday effects


By Jennifer Peltz - Associated Press



You and your loved ones aren’t federal employees or contractors, and you don’t live in a setting or have a job closely tied to government programs. So what does the government shutdown have to do with you?

The budget standoff between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats is rippling into some unexpected places.

Like Carmen Bush’s cellphone.

It’s being deluged with telemarketing calls, but she can’t get added to the National Do Not Call Registry. It is unavailable during the stalemate.

“It’s turning into an every-15-minute reminder that the government is shut down,” the Oakland, California, high school English teacher says.

“I feel bad because I know so many other people are being affected by the shutdown in so many more devastating ways, but this is just one way that didn’t even cross my mind.”

Here’s a look at some more ways:

ON YOUR PLATE

Caitlin Hilbert was enjoying some poke, the Hawaiian marinated raw fish dish, last week when the shutdown made her stop chewing.

It occurred to her that the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees seafood safety, had suspended routine inspections.

The agency said last Monday it was bringing workers back to resume checks of seafood and other “high-risk” items. Still, the moment made Hilbert reflect on the links between Washington and her life in San Mateo, California.

To be sure, inspectors don’t normally examine every morsel Americans eat, and plenty of food is safe.

THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT

After enduring past shutdowns as a federal worker, Atlanta retiree David Swan hoped he wouldn’t feel the effects of this one.

Then he tried to look at an identity theft complaint he filed with the Federal Trade Commission in 2017, after his personal information was compromised in a data breach and he learned that someone checked into a hotel under his name.

Swan recently got an email saying his FTC account would be deactivated if he didn’t log in, but the system is offline because of the shutdown. (The commission does say accounts aren’t being deactivated in the meantime.)

“The process of keeping the government open and keeping the government running should not be compromised for partisan politics,” he says.

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IN THE LUNCHROOM

The shutdown is showing up in school cafeterias in North Carolina’s rural Vance County, which plans to start paring student lunches this week.

Fresh produce will be nixed in middle and high schools and reduced in elementary schools, and lunchrooms will stop offering bottled water and juice, among other changes announced in a Facebook post this week. Ice cream will be gone, too.

The USDA assures that school lunch programs have funding through the end of March. But the Vance County school system said it’s trying “to conserve food and funding” in a district where most students come from families with incomes low enough to qualify them for free or reduced-price lunch. Federal money pays for 95 percent of its school nutrition program.

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IN TAX TANGLES

Tax Day isn’t until April, but some of Mindy Schwartz’ accounting clients are anxious to contact the IRS now. They’ve gotten notices citing issues with past returns and saying the clients owe money.

Normally, Schwartz calls up a special Internal Revenue Service number for tax professionals to get to the bottom of notices like this. But the line is now answered only by a message saying help “is not available at this time.”

Help may be on the way: The IRS said was recalling about 46,000 of its employees, over half its workforce, as the official start of tax season approaches Jan. 28. The agency said workers would start staffing some phone lines “in the coming days.”

For the moment, Schwartz’s concerned clients can only ponder whether to wait to get through, and perhaps risk penalties and interest, or pay what the IRS says they owe, even if they believe there’s an error.

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AT THE AIRPORT

Jennifer Lyon-Weisman isn’t a worrier by nature. But she headed for the airport in Columbus, Ohio, over three hours before her Friday afternoon flight.

She lives only 15 minutes away, but she didn’t want to take chances on her annual trip to a fundraising music festival in New Jersey. She’d heard reports of long lines and closed checkpoints at some airports, starting last weekend, after absenteeism spiked among now-unpaid federal security screeners.

The sick-out rate has eased a bit, and the Transportation Security Agency said less than 6 percent of flyers nationwide waited more than 14 minutes in checkpoint lines as of Thursday.

“And then I feel guilty because people aren’t being paid, and it’s a really small problem,” said Lyon-Weisman, a barber.

ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES

Some college students and their families are also contending with shutdown woes as they try to get tax information for financial aid applications.

With IRS phone lines and offices closed, some have struggled to get verification and documents they need to apply. The shutdown doesn’t affect the aid itself, but the Department of Education acknowledges that some “systems and processes depend on information from_and actions taken by_other federal agencies, several of which are currently closed.”

Associated Press writers Alina Hartounian in Phoenix; Ivan Moreno in Milwaukee; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; and Kiley Armstrong in New York contributed to this report.

By Jennifer Peltz

Associated Press