It’s the 7th of October and at midnight the US government will enter its 8th day of shutdown. While many thought that the shutdown would be short-lived, this has not been the case. Indeed, it now appears as though the shutdown will last at least until the 17th of October – the date by which the US debt limit must be increased to avoid default on government loans. If you are curious as to how the government is (or is not really) operating during the shutdown, you can find copies of all agency plans here.
More importantly, APS has many members who serve on the staff of governmental agencies and many other members whose research or economic viability depends on access to Federal funding or the variety of regulatory activities that enable research and commercial activities related to plants and associated microbes, including plant pathogens. Who is minding these stores during the shutdown?
According to the contingency plans, most of the agencies have a handful (2-5) of employees at headquarters on call for emergency activities and most governmental websites have been shuttered. Here are a few more specific examples of the impact of the shutdown on employees at a few agencies.
· Out of approximately 10,190 staff within the research division of USDA (i.e., ARS, ERS, NASS, & NIFA), only 408 are working with 402 of these at ARS maintaining essential research facilities. This means that 96% of employees at these 4 agencies have been furloughed.
· APHIS receives some revenue from trust funds and user fees so it is not completely dependent on annual appropriation bills. For agricultural emergencies involving invasive pests and diseases, Commodity Credit Corporation mandatory funding is available. In addition, mandatory farm bill funding supports some pests and disease activities. In all, these non-appropriated funds will keep 3,037 APHIS employees working.
· The US Forest Service has furloughed almost 60% of its staff as you may have seen firsthand if you tried to visit a national park this past weekend.
· The National Science Foundation furloughed 1,970 employees and has kept 30 staff (slightly above 1%) to protect life and property.
It is hard to imagine what the financial toll will be on many of the governmental workers who will go without pay for at least one full pay period. Even if Congress enacts legislation to provide back-pay, no doubt many employees will have trouble making ends meet this month and they deserve our support.
What can you do? Contact your members of congress and tell them to pass, at least, a clean continuing appropriations resolution. If you are a governmental employee affected by the shutdown, remember that you can contact your members of congress as well provided you use your personal email and contact details.
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