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Government Shutdown Impacts Local Residents
Government Shutdown Impacts Local Residents

Government Shutdown Impacts Local Residents

Photo courtesy of Andy Gleason Story by: Coya Pair and Ryan Simonovich

Thursday, January 24, 2019 | Number of views (364)

The partial federal government shutdown is causing an array of impacts to the local community.

The government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, the longest shutdown in American history. The shutdown occurred because Congress and the President have not agreed on a spending bill.  

The fundamental legislation behind government shutdowns is the Antideficiency Act, which states that government agencies cannot operate if they aren’t funded. Therefore, if agencies are not funded by funding bills, also called appropriations bills, government agencies shut down.

Editor’s Note: Information of how the government shutdown is impacting campus will continue to be posted to this page.

NASA Experiment

The shutdown has indefinitely halted research FLC geoscience students are conducting as part of a project with NASA.

The five year project seeks to develop a satellite that would measure the water content in snowpack from outer space. A key part of the project is taking measurements at Senator Beck Basin near Red Mountain Pass northwest of Silverton.

“We have had to put it on hold,” Andy Gleason, the geosciences faculty professor spearheading the project, said.

Three students are working on the project as part of a paid internship. This month the students were scheduled to receive training on various snow science measurement instruments. However the equipment was never shipped to campus because of the shutdown, Gleason said.

The next step was for the measurements to be taken out in the field. If the government remains shut down, this part of the project will be delayed until next winter, Gleason said.

For now, Gleason and his students must wait.

“We just don’t know at this point,” he said.

NASA has furloughed a majority of its employees as a result of the shutdown. The only employees who are not furloughed are those who are essential to protecting “life and property,” according to a statement released by the agency.  

Anthropology Classes

Multiple anthropology classes have been impacted by the shutdown.

Jesse Tune, an assistant professor of anthropology, was planning to fly drones over the San Juan National Forest in order to collect data on plant life for his Introduction to Applied Remote Sensing course. The 300-level class is designed to teach students how to collect data using drones, a skill that is professionally valuable.

However, Tune can no longer contact the U.S. Forest Service to plan the drone project because forest service employees are on furlough.

If the shutdown continues, Tune will fly the drones with students at the Old Fort campus in Hesperus, he said.

Similarly, Tune has a contract with the U.S. Forest Service, which falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to train student teaching assistants in drone operations. This would be a paid position, but it may cease to exist if the shutdown continues, Tune said.

Tune is also in a key planning phase of an anthropology field school class which is scheduled to take place this summer. The class would take place on Bureau of Land Management land, but the BLM, which falls under the U.S. Department of the Interior, is closed.

Field schools are a critical part of anthropology degrees, and students must take the class in order to be qualified for jobs, Tune said.

Tune has a short timeline to finalize the logistics of taking students into the backcountry, such as transportation and food supplies, but the agency is shut down. The course, which is critical for juniors and seniors, may have to be rescheduled until next summer, but will not impact students’ graduation, Tune said.

Financial Aid Impacts

Student aid has been complicated and slowed down, allowing stress levels to rise.

The Internal Revenue Service is partially shut down, which complicates getting tax documents and financial aid for some students, Tracey Piccoli, Fort Lewis College financial aid director, said.

“It could have had an impact on students who were completing their financial aid files late,” Piccoli said. “But on January 9th,  the U.S. Department of Education implemented some workarounds that students can use to get their financial aid files complete without having to wait for documentation from the IRS.”

If a family is unable obtain tax documents, they can provide a signed copy of the 2016 tax return transcript that they filed with the IRS to complete the verification process, Piccoli said.

If a family is unable to get verification of non-filing, they can provide a signed statement certifying that they attempted to obtain this document from the IRS, and were unable to get this document along with the Non-Filer form and all W-2s for 2016, Piccoli said.

“The partial shutdown of the IRS was our biggest concern with the ability for students to get copies of required tax documents. With no phone service available students could only request documents electronically or through the mail."

The government shutdown has also stopped some Native American students from getting scholarships from their tribes, financial aid counselor Marissa Salazar-Vigil said.

Psychological Impacts of Immigration Debate

Some other government employees who are not receiving a paycheck, are those who work for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, says Mike Clark, Durango resident who recently immigrated from England.

Clarke has been waiting for his legal immigration paperwork for a while, and believes it is taking so long because the USCIS employees aren't getting paid.

“If I wasn’t getting paid, my heart wouldn’t be in it, says Clarke. “If I wasn’t being looked after, I wouldn’t feel like looking after my employer.”

Other than the stress of waiting on paperwork, Clarke feels a discomfort due to the reasoning behind the government shutdown: Trump’s plan to build a border wall.

Clarke says that although he is white, the government shutdown triggers a lot of fear, and makes it difficult for him to become comfortable living in Durango.

“As much as I want this to be my home, the justifications for this wall can lead to many people seeing me as unwelcome,” Clarke, said.

Clarke says that he came to Durango in 2017 for prosperity, much like most immigrants, and has sympathy for those who are at higher risk of being deported than he is.

“Certain people who come here for the same reason are being demonized for that,” Clarke said. “America is supposed to be the land of the free and home of the brave; but what’s more brave than to change your home country, and what’s more free than to seek help?”

Benjamin Waddell, an associate professor of sociology, says that he and many of his friends and family in the U.S are being psychologically affected by this as well.

“Even when we and our kids speak Spanish, we feel this tension that didn’t used to be there. It’s a social rejection that I haven’t experienced before,” Waddell said. “And when you have a 6-year-old, you want to push your culture, but you also want to keep them safe from rejection and bullying.”

Waddell explains that he and his family have legal documentation, so it isn’t as big of a fear to speak Spanish in public for them, as it is for some of his friends and family who don’t and could be deported.

Databases and Grants

Science instructors plan lessons around government data that can be found online. There is the possibility that the data cannot be accessed or will not be up to date, Kim Hannula, professor of geosciences, said.

The National Science Foundation, which awards grant money and provides other academic support, is also closed, Hannula said.

Multiple students are working on grants, but cannot access information from federal websites, Jillian Wenburg, assistant professor of English, said.  

Scientific databases run by the National Institutes of Health are still up and running, Tori Quintana, a biology major, said. The NIH was shut down during the 2013 government shutdown, however they are not impacted during this current shut down.

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