The now 10-day-old government shutdown is beginning to have scattered effects on everything on tourism to the safety net depended on by tens of thousands of Ohioans, according to a report released Wednesday by the left-leaning Cleveland-based nonprofit research group Policy Matters Ohio.
“What started as a catastrophe for federal workers and their families has spread to start to impact communities, and it’s creeping into the labor market as people lose their services,” said Wendy Patton, who wrote the report. “It’s a spiraling effect, and the longer it lasts, the worse it hits people.”
Her report found impacts as disparate as delayed infrastructure projects in northeast Ohio to a growing backlog of Federal Housing Administration loans. The state has more than 75,800 federal employees, including 43 percent who work for the military. Virtually all of the furloughed Department of Defense employees, however, are back on the job.
Many of the effects are less than catastrophic. A spokeswoman for Columbus area Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi said constituents have called to report that the government shutdown has delayed the issuance of replacement Social Security cards. And it’s kept the Internal Revenue Service from issuing the necessary information that would allow some people to buy or sell a house.
National parks have been closed during a season when many flock to national parks to view changing leaves. The Oct. 13 Towpath Marathon at Cuyahoga Valley National Park was rescheduled for Nov. 3 because the park is closed. The Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is also closed, along with the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.
Some of the impact is hard to quantify. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Tuesday announced that it was furloughing 7,000 VA employees nationwide, but spokespersons for both U.S. senators from Ohio said it was unclear how many work in the state. Veterans are still able to get inpatient care at hospitals and mental health counseling at vet centers and outpatient clinics, but the furloughs may make it harder for veterans to get information about benefits and the status of their claims.
Since the shutdown, more than 6,000 Ohio federal employees have filed for unemployment compensation, according to Policy Matters Ohio, including some of those who were furloughed. Ben Johnson of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said furloughed employees who have since been recalled will be evaluated through the same process that determines benefits for other workers. People who worked full-time during the time period studied, he said, will likely be ineligible for unemployment.
“We have furloughed workers from factories around the state of Ohio who go on furlough, apply for and receive unemployment,” he said. “The difference is, with them, they know when they’re going back to work.”
State officials say the impact so far has been minimal. Jim Lynch, Special Advisor on State Budget Communications, said Ohio has so far been able to manage short-term challenges caused by the shutdown.
Johnson said most discretionary federal assistance programs – including cash assistance, food assistance and food stamps – went out during the first 10 days of October. Whether those benefits will go out in November is to be seen, he said.
“We don’t know,” Johnson said. “We know that for nearly all of our programs, things are fine right now.”
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, said she worries that if the shutdown drags into next month, the impact could be seen through various federal nutrition programs, including the school lunch program and food stamps.
“November may not just be the beginning of the holiday season,” she said. “It will be a season of widespread hunger, when 47 million Americans don’t have access to basic nutrition programs.”
By the numbers
Federal workers in Ohio
Total who have applied for unemployment insurance: 6,020
Total employed by the military: 32,500
Total Defense employees who were furloughed: Nearly 11,000.
Total recalled: Nearly all.
Source: Policy Matters Ohio
For more on the impact of the shutdown on Ohioans, see Sunday’s newspaper.