On December 22, 2018, almost 15 percent of government employees, roughly 7,171 workers, throughout Ohio found their agencies without appropriations. Even if they continued to work, they would be doing so without pay.
Furloughed employees were given paychecks. However, those paychecks were, quite literally, for zero dollars.
The government was shut down following the failure of Democrats and Republicans to compromise on the most effective approach to border security. President Donald Trump insisted that a border wall was essential to properly protecting the border, a foundational campaign promise. Democrats refused to fund any budget that included appropriations for a border wall, despite many of their past statements supporting more comprehensive border security that included such a barrier. When it appeared that a compromise would be impossible, Trump stated that he would accept the political cost of a government shutdown.
After thirty-five days, the nation’s longest government shutdown has ended. Though those workers are all set to receive back pay for the days lost, the shutdown left many of them in financially precarious positions. The past thirty-five days also saw an incredible outpouring of solidarity and support from both national and local organizations.
Restaurants and stores like Condado Tacos, COSI, the Market Italian Village, and the Crest Gastropub all offered free meals and discount prices for any furloughed worker who presented a valid Government ID. Zoo’s, aquariums, and several movie theaters offered free admission. In addition, one of the largest rock concerts in Ohio, the Sonic Temple Art and Music Festival, has offered free tickets to all furloughed employees. While many more companies were deeply supportive of government employees, the government itself was less kind.
While many bureaucrats went without pay, only those who did not continue to work were permitted to apply for unemployment benefits. This was consistent with the wishes of the Trump administration, however, California and Colorado still offered benefits to workers who stayed on the job. Now with the government open, all employees who did collect unemployment benefits will have to repay them immediately after they receive their back pay.
While a majority of Ohioans agree that government shutdowns are bad for the country, they are divided as to who deserves the blame. While the majority of national outlets and publications all put the blame squarely on President Trump’s shoulders, the local stage was far more divided. In Cuyahoga Falls, more than 100 Ohioans staged a rally in below-zero temperature to show support for the president and encourage him to continue the fight. A recent study found that Ohio was one of the states least affected by the shutdown.
Legislator opinions all fell along party lines with Democrats using the shutdown to attack the president while Republicans overwhelmingly stood behind him. Most did agree that governing by crisis and shutdown, as the government has for much of the last two decades, was not effective.
Following the government reopening; Republican Sen. Rob Portman had some of the most pointed comments:
I’ve said repeatedly throughout this process that government shutdowns are a bad idea. They hurt federal employees and their families, disrupt critical government services and increase the cost to taxpayers. This shutdown confirmed what we already knew about shutdowns. Let’s do something about it now while the pain and inefficiency of this moment is fresh on our minds.
He, along with eight Republican Senators, has introduced a bill called the “End Government Shutdowns Act,” that would mandate the continued funding of essential government agencies.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.