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LARGO — Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) and Ben Cardin (D-Md) met with local business owners to hear first-hand how the government shutdown has affected them as well as inform them what they and other government leaders are doing to end the shutdown in a meeting hosted by the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce (PGCOC) on Jan. 17.
“I really want to let you know that working with Senator Van Hollen, the two of us every day are doing things to underscore opening up the government and ending the shutdown which never should have taken place,” Cardin said to the crowd of business owners as well as furloughed government workers.
The government shutdown, the result of President Donald Trump and congressional leaders at an impasse over funding a $5 billion wall at the Mexican border in the federal budget, has now been going on for a month making this the longest government shutdown in United States history.
Charles County resident Tiffany Daniels finds herself dually impacted by the shutdown as a federal government worker and the owner of Curves International, a fitness center in Fort Washington.
“I can understand what all of them were talking about today and I’m not alone just worrying about what’s going to happen with my credit when it’s time for my renewal,” she said.
“Yesterday I just requested a hardship loan from my TSP. I’m going to go today to apply for unemployment and start trying to call some of my creditors to see how forgiving they’ll be to allow me to miss a month and prayerfully that’s all it will be.”
Several business owners, such as Sharon Ransom who owns Sculptured Planning LLC in Landover, said they are impacted as well but indirectly. Ransom owns an event planning business and as a result of the shutdown risks losing business because federal agencies or contractors she plans events for are not working or cannot afford to hold events.
At the beginning of the meeting, Cardin and Van Hollen explained to the public how they have been involved with ending the shutdown from meeting with federal workers and contractors to their legislative efforts that include a bill passed on Jan. 16 that would ensure that federal workers are guaranteed pay after the shutdown ends.
“Everyday, you see more and more Americans around the country losing access to important services,” Van Hollen said. “The FDA stopped their routine food inspections. So the impacts are serious, are harmful and growing and then, of course, you’ve got 800,000 federal employees who are not getting paid. Hundreds of thousands of them are going to work so they’re working without pay, and hundreds of thousands of them have been locked out of work.”
Federal contractors have just as much at stake, and historically, they do not get paid at the end of a shutdown. To combat this, Van Hollen and Cardin said they had introduced a bill that will reimburse contractors, especially low wage and median wage service contract employees.
Additionally, Van Hollen and Cardin said they were working to pass other bills to open the government that already have bipartisan support such as one that would open all departments of the government except the Department of Homeland Security with agreed upon funding while the government negotiates border security.
According to them, the Senate and Congress not getting a chance to vote on these bills all goes back to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow them to have a vote.
“Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, can bring them up any time for a vote, but he hasn’t,” Van Hollen said. “So Senator Cardin and I have been to the floor asking consent for the Senate to bring up these bills for a vote and both times Senator McConnell stood on the floor and said no, refused to bring up these bills.”
These bills to reopen the government have overwhelming bipartisan support, the senators said, and Van Hollen called McConnell’s refusal to allow them to vote on them because the president does not agree with it a “total cop out” and a “total abdication of the Senate’s responsibility as a separate and co-equal branch of government.”
But above all else, they and those in the room agreed that the issue of the unnecessary shutdown is the fault of no one else but Trump.
“There is a reason why we have checks and balances in our system of government,” Cardin said. “There is a reason why we have an independent legislative branch of government. And yes the president has the right to veto, and he has the right to override, but if we don’t vote, we’re not carrying out our responsibilities.”
PGCOC President David Harrington said he was very impressed with the turnout and the meeting left the PGCOC with several takeaways that they can use to expedite opening the government and assisting furloughed workers until that happens.
“Having two United States senators here who are at the senior level of the game informing us about what’s going on is incredible, and we certainly appreciate it,” Harrington said. “And then to have people here having them be able to talk to them directly and say this is how it’s affecting me, I think is invaluable to them and certainly we have in our way added to the call to end the shutdown.”
For the rest of the hour-long meeting, Harrington opened the floor for stakeholders in the room to discuss how they are affected and what will happen if the government remains closed such as adverse effects on people’s credit, loss of security clearance and parents not being able to afford aftercare services.
Bowie State University President Aminta Breaux brought up the point that if the shutdown continues, students leaving college will not be able to find jobs and the 85 percent of students at BSU who qualify for financial aid will not be able to receive it.
“Yes, we are an educator, we educate students, but we are also an employer as well,” Breaux said. “We are also looking for an employer to hire our students. So there is this ecosystem that we’ve been talking about here today that will impact our Bowie State University unless we do something about it.”
Representatives from Melwood and Chimes Inc., organizations that give employment to those with disabilities, said as their locations begin to close due to the shutdown the effects on the disabled community will be devastating.
“They can’t afford their medication, they can’t afford their health insurance, they can’t afford their rent,” said Chimes D.C Director of Contracting Harrison Misewicz. “The thing is, when you need medication to get to work and you can’t afford your medication because you are not working, that’s a deadly cycle right there.”