The impact of a federal shutdown is not always seen in small communities, but for many local government employees, the effects could not be greater.
“We don’t know if we are going to work tomorrow, or in two weeks, or in two months,” said Khaliela Wright, a Census Bureau employee in Potlatch. “Nobody gets paid … we know just as much as everybody else.”
The shutdown caused many non-essential government departments to be shutdown including the National Park Service, the Rocky Mountain Research Center and the Census Bureau.
“Essential means that somebody will die if you don’t show up,” Wright said. “At the dams, the powerhouse people are working because if the dam explodes it causes major flooding and people die. If nobody is going to die, you don’t work.”
Another department that has been closed due to the federal government shutdown is the Forest Service, which manages federal forestland.
“Idaho’s unusual because almost 40 percent of the state of Idaho is administered by the U.S. Forest Service, and so that’s a lot of land, more than 20 million acres of the state,” said Jay O’Laughlin, professor of forestry and policy science at the University of Idaho. “The land management projects that they do are designed to improve ecological conditions, those will have to be put on hold.”
O’Laughlin said thousands of foresters throughout Idaho are employed by the U.S. Forest Service, and were all furloughed due to the shutdown.
“They’re not getting paychecks, so that affects the communities that they live in, and the longer that goes on, the deeper that effect will be,” O’Laughlin said.
O’Laughlin said Idaho has the largest amount of federal forestland in the country.
“The fact that 40 percent of land in the state is basically in limbo is going to have some effect on Idahoans,” O’Laughlin said.
He said many ski areas in the Western U.S. are on forest service land, which could mean limited skiing if the shutdown continues into ski season.
O’Laughlin said he has been affected by the Forest Service shutdown because he often uses the Forest Service website for information and reports.
Another department that has been shut down is the National Parks Service, which manages all national parks and monuments.
“It puts some people off of their recreation opportunities that they planned, and it does affect the employees of the agency,” O’Laughlin said.
Wright said the shutdown will have negative effects on her surveys and reports, such as the monthly unemployment number, because they are not allowed to work volunteer hours.
“We’re not allowed to work, we’re not allowed to gather that information, so we don’t know what the employment numbers for October are going to be,” Wright said.
A report on transportation patterns in Latah County has also been delayed, and was supposed to analyze roads that might need future funding.
Wright said some federal employees might receive back pay for their work during the shutdown, but it is not guaranteed.
“People in the powerhouses that have to work, those people might possibly get back pay for work performed. There is no for sure on that either because Congress would have to pass a resolution for back pay,” Wright said.
Ryan Tarinelli can be reached at email@example.com