The federal government shutdown has ended – for now – and it was a horror show. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the shutdown will cost the American economy $3 billion. State and local governments where large communities of federal workers live, such as the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland, are taking a major hit. And the impact will be felt far beyond the Beltway, in places like Houston, home to approximately 25,000 federal employees.
For nearly a million federal employees and their families throughout the nation, the shutdown created more than a month of economic anxiety. And for all of us, it meant a disruption in important services that we count on.
But therein lies one positive, unintended consequence of the shutdown: it was a wake-up call for our nation about the contribution that hardworking employees of the federal government (including members of AFSCME Council 20) make to the strength of our communities. For years, we have been subjected to a relentless attack from wealthy elites and their political allies on the value of government and the public services provided by dedicated women and men like AFSCME member Michele Kennedy Kouadio. Everyday heroes like Michele, a marketing specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who helps farmers in our country and hungry people all over the world, deserve better than five weeks on the sidelines without a paycheck.
The shutdown also shone a light on growing income inequality. That neon glare was at a peak when Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross wondered what all the shutdown fuss was about: Why don’t federal workers just get a loan? The economic divide has gotten so large that some of the ultra-wealthy don’t even get what life is like for most of us. The shutdown made clear what we already knew: that going without even one paycheck is a financial catastrophe for many working families.
The shutdown should have never happened, but let’s focus on the way forward. Here are three things every single one of us can do, starting today, to galvanize this new awareness into action:
First, thank a federal government employee next time you see one, whether it’s a Transportation Security Administration agent or a park ranger. And if you are an AFSCME member, make sure that your community is aware of the vital services you provide.
Second, contact members of Congress and let them know you do not want another government shutdown that will hold public services and federal workers hostage to misguided presidential demands. In a little more than a week, we will be back in the same predicament if our elected officials don’t act now to provide funding for the federal government and public services.