How the shutdown is growing even worse

TSA agents

The number of TSA agents at airports calling out of work has increased threefold since the shutdown began. | Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

The pressure to reopen nine shuttered federal departments is growing more urgent and politically perilous as government employees brace for their first missed paycheck on Friday.

The partial government shutdown is on track to become the longest in history, closing in on three weeks. Thousands of federal employees are applying for unemployment benefits and the Trump administration is scrambling. As federal workers tighten their belts and cut back on spending, the overall cost to the economy soars — at about $1.2 billion a week. The shutdown could also mean more than $1 billion in lost productivity for the government.

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A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson confirmed that Tuesday was the last day to process federal paychecks — essentially guaranteeing no pay for employees there on Friday. Pay stubs distributed to air traffic controllers on Thursday also read a balance of $0 for their last two weeks of work. Along with DHS, the departments of Agriculture, Justice, Treasury, Commerce, Interior, State, Transportation and HUD are all hit by the partial shutdown, as well as agencies like EPA, the FDA and the IRS.

The American Federation of Government Employees is suing the Trump administration over the shutdown, as is the National Treasury Employees Union, and the AFL-CIO, federal workers and Democratic lawmakers are rallying Thursday at the union’s headquarters in D.C and walking to the White House.

President Donald Trump is headed to the border on Thursday and he is said to beweighing whether to declare a national emergency to build his border wall, as GOP leaders and White House officials increasingly see it as the only way out of a shutdown.

How the shutdown is inflicting even more pain:

Workers clamor for unemployment benefits: At least 7,127 federal employees and contractors living in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have applied for unemployment benefits since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, according to a POLITICO tally of the latest numbers maintained by state and local officials. That includes 4,429 federal workers and an estimated 1,002 federal contractors living in D.C. Roughly 800,000 federal workers are affected, 350,000 of whom are furloughed and the rest are still on the job without pay.

Restoring food safety inspections: The shutdown has barred the Food and Drug Administration from performing most routine food safety inspections, but officials at the agency are hoping to restart some for high-risk products, like seafood and raw fruit. It’s unlikely that many inspections have been missed, however, since high-risk food facilities aren’t inspected very often even when the government is fully funded.

Tax refunds will go out on time: Acting White House budget director Russ Voughtsaid Monday that tax refunds won’t be delayed — heading off the Treasury Department, which had been trying to figure out if that’s even legally possible. But there’s still no sign of a contingency plan for how the IRS proposes to pull it off.

Accident investigations grind to a halt: The National Transportation Safety Board, typically charged with investigating accidents, can’t look into a tractor-trailer crash with a school bus that injured 15 people and a general aviation crash that killed four. The agency has been forced to forgo launching investigations into a dozen incidents because of furloughed workers. In four other accidents, NTSB had to stop collecting evidence, which is necessary to determine whether the agency needs to launch an investigation.

FBI stretched thin: The FBI Agents Association urged Trump and congressional leaders to reopen the government, saying the ongoing shutdown “undermines the FBI’s ability to recruit and retain high-caliber professionals.”

Assuaging fears over food stamp funding: The Trump administration on Tuesdaysaid funding for food stamp benefits won’t run out in February — even though White House officials just a few days ago raised the specter of the program running out of money. Nearly 39 million people depend on the program each month. Questions still remain about what will happen to food stamp benefits in March.

TSA’s call-outs increase: The number of TSA agents calling out of work has increasedthreefold at some airports since the shutdown began and the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents a chunk of TSA employees, says some have even quit altogether. TSA said that on Jan. 7, the agency had an “unscheduled absence rate” of 4.6 percent, compared to 3.8 percent on the same day the previous year.

Federal scientists miss key conferences: An annual gathering of the American Meteorological Society was hit hard by the shutdown, with scores of officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA bowing out. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was among those who had to cancel plans. “I was very much looking forward to the AMS conference since NASA builds NOAA’s weather satellites,” he told POLITICO.

National parks reel: The National Park Service will tap into visitor fees typically used to improve the visitor experience in order to clear the mounting garbage and continue basic maintenance. Democrats like Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who works on Interior spending, have vowed to fight the department’s decision

Childcare costs pose a burden: Many federal employees pay thousands of dollars for childcare services at on-site centers in federal buildings, even as they work without pay or are furloughed. Unenrolling in those daycares means losing a spot in a city where two-year-long waitlists are common at most federal centers and workers often apply for spots even before they become pregnant with a child.

Landlords dip into reserves: HUD told lenders that landlords at properties insured by the Federal Housing Administration should dip into reserve cash so tenants aren’t evicted during the shutdown. Mortgage lenders and financial institutions are now working to help federal employees pay the bills.

Disaster aid delayed: Billions of dollars in disaster aid to states and cities to help build up their defenses against natural disasters has been delayed because HUDcan’t issue guidance on how to apply for the funds. That poses a major problem for states like Texas, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey and working to prepare for the 2019 hurricane season.

Federal hiring gets pinched: Understaffed agencies like the FDA can’t onboard new employees as expected and recruitment efforts have ground to a halt. FDA this week welcomed just half of the new hires that the agency would have welcomed under normal circumstances.

States put off new transportation projects: Without the guarantee with fiscal 2019 appropriations, states are increasingly delaying the start of new projects. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is putting off three dozen projects totaling almost $133 million because of the shutdown.

Corporate America feels the sting: The shutdown is delaying mergers and acquisitions involving foreign investors, threatening a number of business deals from happening in January. Companies preparing to make initial public offerings, which often serve as a springboard for jobs and growth, can’t get a sign-off from the SEC.

Courts scrape together funds: Federal courts had enough money to remain totally operational through Friday, but now the U.S. judiciary is scraping together funds to keep courts open until Jan. 18. That means putting off new hires and non-case related travel. The Justice Department has also asked some federal courts to temporarily put on hold some court cases in which the federal government is a party until the partial government shutdown ends.

Jennifer Scholtes, Victoria Guida, Bryan Bender, Tim Starks, Ted Hesson, Helena Bottemiller Evich, Stephanie Beasley, Patrick Temple-West, Brian Faler, Katy O’Donnell, Sarah Karlin-Smith, Tanya Snyder, Sam Mintz , Eric Geller and Bernie Becker contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this report misstated the overall estimated number of TSA call-outs.

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