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How the government shutdown impacts NYC: MTA, museums and more

While President Donald Trump pushes for a wall, the MTA could lose funding and low-income families face the potential of less public assistance. 

The MTA risks losing federal funding if the

The MTA risks losing federal funding if the government shutdown continues. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

The federal government shutdown – now the longest in United States history – is poised to enter its fifth week with no end in sight.

As the shutdown continues, about a quarter of federal agencies have been forced to reduce staff to only "essential" employees until further notice, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture, Treasury, State, Interior, Transportation, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development. Other agencies with budgets funded through September remain open, including the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Labor.

The shutdown began Dec. 22, when Democrats in Congress and Trump could not agree on the president's demand for over $5 billion in funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The dispute has disrupted everything from air travel to tax collection and suspended pay for 800,000 government workers.

Some people living in New York City, mostly federal workers and contractors, have already felt the shutdown's impact. But millions more could soon feel the effects of the shutdown, as public transportation, airport security, public assistance benefits and federally-funded loans quickly lose the manpower and funding necessary to process services.

Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the city stands to lose $500,000 a month in funding if the shutdown drags on into March. The mayor's office set up a website, nyc.gov/governmentshutdown, that provides information on such resources as food pantries, mental health services and help with water payment plans.

Here's how the government shutdown could impact New Yorkers.

MTA battles funding costs

If the shutdown continues, it will wreak havoc on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which receives roughly $150 million in reimbursements every month from the Federal Transit Administration, Sen. Chuck Schumer said during a news conference on Jan. 6.

“They can last another four weeks, but after that [the MTA has] got real trouble,” he said. “They may have to borrow, which could increase their costs. They may have to cut back, which would be a very bad thing.”

The MTA's 2017 annual report shows it received roughly $35 million in federal grants that year. The authority also received $1.374 billion for the Second Avenue Subway and $2.699 billion for the East Side Access project, according to the 2017 report.

Schumer speculated that funds lost because of the shutdown may force the MTA to put the cost on commuters, but the MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what it plans to do if those dollars go unaccounted for in the coming weeks. 

"A prolonged federal government shutdown would be bad news for customers and the MTA and we thank Sen. Schumer for his leadership in fighting to stop it," the MTA said in an emailed statement on Monday.

Getting through airports

The Transportation Security Administration employs more than 43,000 officers and 600 aviation transportation security officers. With three major airports in the New York City area, some of those employees are New Yorkers and their lack of pay may impact the airports' day-to-day activities, warned Mac Johnson, the executive vice president of the union American Federation of Government Employees. 

When the shutdown began, the government announced that TSA employees will not receive paychecks. Because TSA agents are considered "essential" personnel and are still expected to work, Johnson believes some of them will begin looking for other jobs if the shutdown does not end soon.

“TSA employees are hardworking, dedicated employees who took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and to ensure that other events such as 9/11 never occur again,” Johnson said. “We feel that it is inhumane to require employees to come to work and not to pay them. They have rent, mortgage, grocery bills and more they have to pay for.”

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello on Monday said the administration had a 7.6 percent unscheduled absence rate nationally, compared to a 3.2 percent rate a year ago.

Receiving public assistance benefits

While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture remain closed, public housing and food assistance programs in New York City could face problems. The USDA said that as of Jan. 1, rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities and businesses are suspended.

About 1.6 million people in the city who receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will continue to receive benefits through January. While it was originally anticipated that those benefits would run out in February, the USDA announced on Jan. 8 that they were working with states to ensure that benefits don't dry up.

If the shutdown is not ended by March, de Blasio said funding the SNAP program would become a major issue. The mayor said some SNAP recipients are receiving checks with double their usual amount in preparation for the impending funding cutoff and urged people to be cautious with their SNAP funds and prepare for the worst.

Those in the Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program are expected to still receive benefits through February, although there is no guarantee funding will continue after the month has passed. 

If the shutdown continues into April, the mayor said funding for school lunches will be at stake. 

Some federal workers are stuck at home while others work without pay

A total of 51,000 federal workers in New York City and the surrounding area are not receiving paychecks because of the shutdown, according to Schumer. In the five boroughs, de Blasio said there are about 18,000 federal workers and an unknown number of federal contractors who are not receiving pay.

“That is very bad for them and their families,” Schumer said. “They should not be hostages to President Trump’s demands.”

Throughout the shutdown, furloughed federal employees may be able to receive unemployment insurance benefits, although the benefits will have to be paid back once regular paychecks resume. Those who are eligible can file a claim on the Department of Labor’s website and are encouraged to do so within the first week of not working. Federal employees who must report to work despite not being paid are not eligible for the benefit.

Museums and historical sites are closed

Locals and tourists alike will not be able to visit popular historical sites and museums in New York City during the shutdown. As of Jan. 9, the National Park Service said The National Museum of the American Indian, Federal Hall, African Burial Ground, Hamilton Grange Memorial, General Grant N. Memorial, Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, and Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace will remain closed until the shutdown ends.

The National Park Service is using recreation fees and support from its partners to keep the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open during the shutdown.

Opioid addiction help is on hold

With the Drug Enforcement Administration scaled back to essential personnel only, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have been unable to confirm their registrations that allow them to prescribe anti-opioid drugs such as Buprenorphine, according to Schumer. 

"Simply put, the DEA, in many ways, holds the keys to accessing critical anti-opioid treatment drugs that New York City and Long Island patients and doctors need to combat this deadly scourge," the senator said in a statement on Jan. 13. "And so we need them fully open and running to put those keys back into the hands of the New York doctors who save lives, and the patients who are fighting to get better.”

Education resources will not award grants, funding

The shutdown will also have an impact on education. The National Science Foundation, which provides grants to student researchers and scientists throughout the United States, will not provide funding opportunities while the shutdown ensues. NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey also will not be able to administer grants, fellowships or other funding opportunities to students and researchers.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, many colleges, vocational rehabilitation agencies and school districts heavily rely on federal funding, including the City University of New York, which received 8 percent of its budget from the government last year. The department’s website warns a longer government shutdown could delay grants for CUNY and other colleges and universities until later in the year.

With Michael O'Keeffe, Ivan Pereira and Reuters

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