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government shutdown

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The U.S. government declared a ceasefire in a war against itself Jan. 25. The three-week agreement to end the 35-day government shutdown is a compromise to lower the guns so the two sides can talk but, if anything, the weapons are still loaded.

If it were a real agreement, it wouldn’t have been given a deadline.

That’s what the whole government shutdown has felt like, a war, and like any modern war, the people who are hurt most are the civilians caught in the crossfire.

The number of people affected has been reported so often, but it is worth repeating. There were some 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed or forced to work without pay during the government closure, the longest shutdown in this nation’s history. Last week, TBR News Media reported on businesses who assisted those federal workers by providing free food and services. Some of those shops received 200, 300 or more people in a single weekend seeking help, and those same business owners spent hundreds of out-of-pocket dollars to help feed people. Organizations that usually create food kitchens for the holiday season or during national disasters organized for the thousands affected.

Even though the shutdown is over, major news outlets report workers do not know when they will receive their full back pay. Federal watchdogs said it might take the IRS a full year to recover from the lingering effects of the shutdown. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report Jan. 28 saying the shutdown cost the U.S. economy $11 billion, $3 million of which it will never recover.

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump (R) said the likelihood of reaching a deal is less than 50 percent. That’s not good enough.

This government shutdown was a hostage situation, and we at TBR News Media believe it should not become a regular political tool to hang the U.S. economy up by its lapels until it coughs up whatever an individual or political body desires. Another modern country has experienced a shutdown in the past. In 1975, Australia was unable to pass a budget. That shutdown resulted in first, the prime minister getting sacked then later the entire parliament was sacked as well, and a new vote was required to help reform the government. Australia has not had a government shutdown since.

The U.S. requires legislation that mandates some sort of repercussion for politicians that force, or allow, a shutdown to occur. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced at the start of the closure he would not take any pay while government workers went without. That is a good start, and it should be codified and expanded to include every elected official in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Residents should call upon their elected representatives, like Zeldin, to propose disciplinary measures once the dust of this political wrangling finally settles. While those who work in Congress won’t necessarily feel the pain and indecency that those who have lived without paychecks for several weeks had to endure, it might remind them they were elected to help — not harm — those they swore to represent. 

Camille Pabon, Marie Delia and Lorian Prince of the family owned Del Fiore Italian Market in Rocky Point. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Sara-Megan Walsh

The current government shutdown became the longest running federal closure in the nation’s history as of Jan. 12 — and there’s no clear end in sight. It’s estimated more than 800,000 government employees are either furloughed or are continuing to work without pay. By this publication’s press time, the shutdown has been ongoing for 34 days.

Several North Shore businesses, residents and other nonprofit organizations are doing what they can to aid those individuals who are anxiously awaiting their next paycheck.

Prism Wellness Salon and Spa, St. James

Janine Argila, center, the owner of Prism salon in St. James with two employees. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Janine Arguila, owner of Prism Wellness Salon and Spa in St. James, announced Jan. 16 via Facebook that her business would offer free haircuts to federal employees with a valid government ID through Feb. 26, or when the shutdown ends.

“We cannot end the shutdown but we can help those affected!” reads the Jan. 16 post. 

Additional notification was also sent out via email to her clients on the company’s mailing list. Arguila said the public’s reaction to her offer was immediate and overwhelming. 

“We’d had people saying, ‘Thank you so much, I’m not even a government employee and I think this is amazing’,” she said, noting thousands of likes and shares the announcement quickly garnered. 

The salon owner said she came up with the idea after reading a friend’s social media posts about how her husband serves with the U.S. Coast Guard and was not sure when he would be able to subsist without a paycheck.

“A lot of people are government employees, or it’s their family, and we don’t even realize it,” Arguila said. 

The first to accept the offer of a free haircut was a regular customer, according to Arguila, who thanked her after stating that her husband is a government employee and is working unpaid. She expects her salon will provide free services to many more as the shutdown drags on. 

“I’ve had my success is by giving back,” the owner said. “My mother taught me to do the right thing no matter what it is. It’s always worked for me in every way.” 

Del Fiore Italian Market, Rocky Point

Del Fiore Italian Market in Rocky Point. Photo by Kyle Barr

Del Fiore Italian Market, located on Broadway in the Rocky Point Business District, starting Jan. 17, gave out two-person meals to government employees throughout the weekend. By Jan. 22, the store had gifted meals to more than 200 people, some of whom traveled from as far as Nassau County. Each meal included a box of fresh cheese ravioli, a quart of meat or
marinara sauce and a loaf of bread valued at $18. The owners said they gave out close to $800 worth of food. After the weekend the business gave out bags of house-cooked pasta until Jan. 24.

“When something’s wrong, people eat, so when something’s wrong you give people food — that’s what we do, we Italian people,” said Camille Pabon, who helps run the family-owned Del Fiore with her sister Lorian Prince. 

While its costly to supply these meals, Pabon said other patrons were quick in supplying the business some money to help pay for the lost revenue. She received promises from those who accepted free food now would come back later as full-paying patrons once the shutdown is over.

Sassy Salads & Bagel Lady Cafe, Shoreham

Sassy Salads & Bagel Cafe. Photo by Kyle Barr

Those who give food now know there is no hint yet when the shutdown could be over.

Linda Winter, the longtime owner of Sassy Salads & Bagel Lady Cafe, located in the Shoreham Plaza along Route 25A, announced Jan. 17 she would be giving out a complementary dozen bagels to those government employees who walked through her door. Over the weekend, Winter said more than 80 individuals came in for the bagels. Overall, the store handed out over 100 bags of a dozen bagels. She was astounded by the number of people who came in looking for help.

“We didn’t refuse anybody,” Winter said.

The deluge of people coming in for bagels was so much she said there were wait times for regular customers as they needed to keep baking new batches over the weekend. On Jan. 24 she announced she would have to limit the bagels to five dozen per day as well as limit the area to Mount Sinai through Wading River, though including Ridge.

“Here I am nearly 29 years in this location and the community has supported me for all those years, so I felt it was the right gesture,” Winter said. “I can imagine it’s a scary time for them … they are singled out, and they need to know people care about them and what’s going on in their lives right now.”

More organizations offer help to government workers in need

Other businesses and organizations from Port Jefferson to Huntington have been stepping up to offer aid to those government workers affected by shutdown: 

Wahlburgers on Route 347 in Port Jefferson. Photo by Alex Petroski

* Blue Salon and Spa in Stony Brook is advertising a free blowout and haircut to those affected by the shutdown.

* On Jan. 18 Wahlburgers in Port Jeff Station announced it is offering a free burger, side and soft drink to individuals who could provide a government identification, ending sometime around Jan. 23. 

Manager Adam Subbiondo said they have already seen more than 300 people ask for a meal since they started providing them.

“You can only imagine what its like to not get paid and go on to live their lives with their families, mortgages and kids,” he said.

* Teachers Federal Credit Union announced Jan. 14 a number of programs to assist those affected, including being able to skip payments on credit cards and loans up to $5,000 for immediate needs. 

*Other organizations like the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been giving out free pet food for those who can’t afford it.

United Studios Martial Arts Academy in Rocky Point. Photo by Kyle Barr

* The United Studios Progressive Martial Arts studio, with locations in both Rocky Point and Port Jefferson Station, is having a food drive over the weekend to help those affected. 

“We believe, as martial artists, in humanitarian efforts,” said Blake Wolfskill, the chief instructor at the Rocky Point location. “We see people suffering and we have to do something.”

* The Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs, which represents more than 20 boat and watercraft organizations, announced Jan. 10 a gift card donation drive to help the U.S. Coast Guard personnel who safeguard the waters of the Long Island Sound. In addition to gift cards, the boating council will also accept monetary donations or check made out to “Chief Petty Officer Association” with Shut Down Fund CT-NY in the memo line and mailed to:  P.O. Box 2124, Halesite, NY 11743.

*This post was updated to reflect Winter’s new bagel policy

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While Democrats and Republicans squabble over reaching an agreement to raise the debt ceiling in the hopes of funding the government beyond Jan. 19, peoples’ lives are hanging in the balance.

Debt ceiling battles that come down to the 11th hour are nothing new in Washington. As is wont to happen in our nation’s capital, a high-stakes game of chicken is currently underway. Democrats are seeking a resolution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative while the Republicans want additional border security, which will also serve as much-needed political points for President Donald Trump (R), who promised his supporters a secure border during the 2016 campaign.

While political games often have real-life consequences, this time feels different. DACA was meant to be a temporary fix during the Obama administration to answer the complicated question regarding what to do about children brought to the United States by adults coming here illegally. It provided temporary status for approximately 800,000 people — commonly referred to as Dreamers — who fit this description, though a permanent answer to the question is still being sought. The Trump administration rescinded the action in September and, ever since, Dreamers have lived in fear of deportation from a country that has become home. Now, their status is a pawn in a political game of chess.

Similarly, reauthorization of CHIP — the Children’s Health Insurance Program — is awaiting a government funding agreement. The service provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In 2016, nearly 9 million children were enrolled in the program, according to www.medicaid.gov. The program covers routine checkups and immunizations, doctor visits, prescriptions, dental and vision care and emergency services for enrollees. In November 2017, the House passed a five-year reauthorization bill to keep the program running, but it never reached the Senate floor. The health of 9 million children hangs in limbo while politicians try to score points for their home team.

Obviously, for far more reasons than the fate of DACA or CHIP, a compromise needs to be reached in order to keep the government running. Taking a funding battle to the wire is nothing new, but it is shameful that leadership from both parties are allowing these vulnerable members of our society to twist in the wind for months on end along the way.

For Democrats, erecting a border wall, or fence, to appease the president and score him a political win in exchange for a sensible resolution to DACA — and an end to the torturous waiting — would not be the end of the world. For Republicans, do 800,000 people who have contributed to our society need to be uprooted and sent home?

While we wait for both sides to grow up and compromise, families with sick kids and those looking to live the American Dream are likely going through incomprehensibly difficult times. A little compromise and compassion would go a long way.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin tours Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram before a press conference in which he called on Congress to reauthorize CHIP. Photo from Zeldin's office

By Alex Petroski

Political gridlock is nothing new in Washington, but if an agreement on a federal funding bill isn’t reached by Jan. 19, this time children’s health will be at risk.

In September, the Children’s Health Insurance Program expired, and Congress passed a short-term funding bill just before Christmas to keep the federal government funded through this Friday. The program, also known as CHIP, is a service that provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Originally enacted in 1997, CHIP provides matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children. It was slated to run for 10 years, but has since been reauthorized on several occasions since 2007. In 2016, almost 9 million children were enrolled in the program, according to Medicaid.gov. The program covers routine check-ups; immunizations; doctor visits; prescriptions; dental and vision care; and emergency services for enrollees. In November, the House passed a five-year reauthorization bill to keep the program running, but it never reached the Senate floor.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) urged lawmakers to pass a bill reauthorizing funding for the program, which also provides funding for community health centers, during a press conference Jan. 12 at Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram. A long-term bill will need to be passed to keep services like CHIP running for the remainder of 2018.

“These essential programs provide millions of children, veterans and individuals with the healthcare services they need,” Zeldin said. “In New York alone, CHIP provides health insurance for 300,000 New York children, while nearly 2 million New Yorkers rely on Community Health Centers for their health care services. On behalf of the millions of New Yorkers who rely on CHIP and Community Health Centers, we must reach across the aisle and work together to preserve these vital programs.”

Although more political debates will likely ensue on other issues pursuant to funding the government through the end of the year, Zeldin said he doesn’t expect reauthorization of CHIP to be used for bargaining by either political party.

“I do not expect to see a partial shutdown after next Friday, so everyone anticipates the funding to continue, but this also presents an opportunity to add the reauthorization language into the next funding bill,” Zeldin said in an interview after the event. “It’s two parts that have been running on different tracks. However, I believe that there is an opportunity here to add the reauthorization language to get it through the House, through the Senate, signed by the President — and reauthorization done.”

New York’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) have each stressed the importance of renewing CHIP as part of larger federal funding discussions.

“We have two weeks to negotiate a budget deal that must also address a host of other items, #ExtendCHIP, community health centers, disaster aid, and of course, the #Dreamers,” Schumer said in a Jan. 3 tweet.

HRH Care Community Health President and Chief Executive Officer Anne Kauffman Nolon, Elsie Owens Health Center Medical Director Nadia Arif and Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center President and CEO Richard Margulis were among the healthcare professionals in attendance who applauded Zeldin’s calls for funding.

“Not extending the funding for these vital programs could have a devastating effect on both our population, and BMHMC, which also faces potential cuts as a Disproportionate Share Hospital,” Margulis said.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, five-year reauthorization of CHIP would cost $800 million over a 10-year period.