American Horror Story: Government Shutdown

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The U.S. Congress, as a whole, is making $2.95 every second. That’s $177 a minute and more than $250,000 a day. And yes, it’s still making that during the government shutdown it caused.
– Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) says he needs his paycheck during the shutdown to pay for his “nice house.”
– Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) says “I need my paycheck. That’s the bottom line.”

– See: http://congressstillgetspaid.com

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This evening, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture announced that “an estimated 278 illnesses … reported in 18 states” have been caused by chicken contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg and possibly produced by the firm Foster Farms. “FSIS is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period,” the agency said in an emailed alert. “The outbreak is continuing.” // FSIS furloughed 1,218 of 9,633 federal employees.

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Food expert Marion Nestle asks whether government-shutdown-mandated furloughs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hampered its response to the salmonella outbreak at Foster Farms… The Heidelberg strain of salmonella appears to be especially virulent. As my colleague David Pierson reported, 42% of victims have been hospitalized, double the normal rate. One big problem: Some of the salmonella strains appear to be resistant to antibiotics. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the initial Public Health Alert, monitoring food-borne illnesses is the job of the CDC. Thanks to the Republican shutdown, the agency was operating with a skeleton crew when the outbreak appeared. // If you’re curious why the CDC’s absence from this outbreak is so critical, this description of how the CDC works in multi-state outbreaks — by organizing the investigation and deploying lab resources that no other agency possesses — is helpful.

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Most federal employees will receive a paycheck on Friday that’s only 60 percent of the usual amount, thanks to the government shutdown. This could be the last check they receive until agencies reopen. [...] The government shutdown affects the pay of both excepted employees — those still on the job — and furloughed workers. The pay of most excepted employees will be delayed but eventually they will be reimbursed for their hours [when the shutdown ends.] // USFS furloughed 18,755 of 32,015 federal employees. Fire crews and law enforcement remain on patrol to protect life and property.

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Benefit checks (including pensions) for veterans and their families would end Nov. 1, if the shutdown lasts through October, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told a congressional panel Wednesday morning… and most of the remaining 13,000 VBA workers will be furloughed.

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Most federal employees will receive a paycheck on Friday that’s only 60 percent of the usual amount, thanks to the government shutdown. This could be the last check they receive until agencies reopen.[...] The government shutdown affects the pay of both excepted employees — those still on the job — and furloughed workers. …Furloughed workers will only receive back pay if Congress approves it; those who worked for a few hours on Oct. 1 to close up shop will be paid for that time.

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The Utah Department of Workforce Services has seen a 500 percent increase of people requesting unemployment since the government shutdown turned federal employees away from work Tuesday. The state-run office usually process 2,000 unemployment claims a week, but since Tuesday has taken on 10,000.

Capturephoto source …aw, bb.

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A report released by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) set out the following numbers: 715,000 visitors lost daily based on October 2012 national park attendance numbers, $76 million in lost visitor spending per day and $450,000 in lost revenue each day that would go directly to the National Park Service ($300,000 in entrance fees and $150,000 in other in-park expenditures, such as campground fees, boat rentals, etc.). [...] Losses like these led the American Hotel Lodging Association to send a letter on Thursday to President Obama and members of the House and Senate urging them to reach an immediate agreement. The letter states, “Analysts say that for each day the federal government is shut down, collective American income is reduced approximately $200 million, and our nation’s hotels are losing more than $8 million in economic activity – putting jobs at risk and causing repercussions across many other related sectors. Communities near national parks are expected to lose $76 million a day in visitor spending.”

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New distilleries, breweries and wineries cannot open. Certain businesses that manufacture or distribute alcohol — and firearms, ammunition and tobacco products — require permits [to operate] from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which won’t accept new applications during the shutdown. // An obscure but powerful arm of the Treasury Department has stopped approving new brews... Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Boston-based Samuel Adams…said that while it’s important to keep the focus on how ordinary people are being hurt by the shutdown, “we will quickly see the downstream effects on businesses and industries. … In short, new breweries cannot start up and new beers cannot be sold.” // 448 of 483 TTB employees were furloughed on Oct. 1.

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At the close of business today, more than 90 percent of the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will go home on furlough as a result of the government shutdown. The Commission had been operating on carryover funds since last Monday, when the shutdown began, but those funds run out today, reducing the staff to a skeleton crew of 300 “essential” personnel who will be responsible for monitoring the nation’s 63 nuclear sites until the government reopens. 

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Processing of oil and gas permits by the Bureau of Land Management [has come] to a halt. BLM will continue to monitor ongoing oil, gas, coal and other mineral operations. BLM will keep inspectors and enforcement personnel on the job for some activities, including overseeing some drilling operations and patrolling oil and gas fields “to make sure that theft of oil or condensate is not occurring.” Alaska pipeline operations will also keep going because funding comes from non-federal sources and for health and safety reasons. // The Dept. of Interior furloughed 58,765 of 72,562 federal employees.

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Patients hoping to enroll for treatment in cutting-edge research studies at the National Institutes of Health’s renowned hospital will have to seek care elsewhere during the government shutdown. Each week that a shutdown lasts would force the agency’s research-only hospital to turn away an estimated 200 patients, 30 of them children… [...] For the fiscal year that ended Monday, NIH was able to fund only about 16 percent of the grant applications it received, Collins said, down from about 1 in 3 applications funded a decade ago. That’s because earlier this year, NIH lost $1.5 billion of its $31 billion budget to automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, after years of budgets that didn’t keep up with inflation.

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[Arizona] stopped payments averaging $207 a week to 5,200 families eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families after Tuesday’s government shutdown… The Arizona Republic reports the decision came despite assurances from federal officials that states would be reimbursed for any payments they made for the federal program. It also comes as the state sits on a $450 million rainy day fund.

NOTE: Gov. Jan Brewer paid the federal government a $651,000 donation allowing Park Service employees to reopen [Grand Canyon National Park] and manage it through Oct. 18, the park service said Friday in a statement..

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The distribution of Social Security benefits will continue, but services like issuing new Social Security cards have ceased. “I just came in here to see if mailing a disability questionnaire late will affect my son’s benefits,” an 81-year-old Howard Beach woman said as she left the Rego Park Social Security office. “ All the supervisor told me was that he doesn’t know, that he couldn’t help me.” For some, that frustration has turned into anger. “It was a bad experience in there,” the woman added. “One man was so mad, he nearly punched the worker through the glass window.” // SSA furloughed 18,006 of 62,343 federal employees.

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The Food and Drug Administration has been forced to suspend all routine food safety inspections for the duration of the government shutdown, FDA spokesman Steven Immergut confirmed to The Huffington Post on Friday afternoon. Until funding is restored, the FDA will be inspecting only those facilities that it has cause to believe “present an immediate threat to public health.” // FDA furloughed 976 of 1602 investigators.

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In a post on his personal Facebook page that was later deleted, Pearce urged government workers to call their banks and take out a short-term loan if money is tight. “If you are a furloughed government employee, we encourage you to reach out to your financial institution as soon as you worry you may miss a paycheck,” read the post. “Don’t wait until you are behind on a bill; call now and explore your options. [Pearce is one of the 50 richest members of Congress, with a net worth of $8 million. ]

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The House gym reserved exclusively for lawmakers remains open during the shutdown. It features a swimming pool, basketball courts, a sauna and steam room. “This job is very stressful and if you don’t have a place to vent, you are going to go crazy and that’s why I’ve used it all these years,” said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who has been a user since 1973. While there’s no towel service available during these tough times, taxpayers are still paying for maintenance and cleaning. The House gym for staff members, however, is closed. // And for [lawmakers and their staff] who feel like relaxing, there’s a special little subway car …to get them there in a ride that takes about 30 seconds. The trains remain staffed and functioning during the shutdown.

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More episodes of American Horror Story: Government Shutdown, as time goes on:

“The longer this goes on, the worse it will be.”President Obama

  • The Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulates trading on Wall Street. The CFTC has sent home 680 of its 708 employees. “They’re monitoring a $300-trillion market,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “How many people are being ripped off, right now? The cops are off the beat.”
  • Engineering firm URS Corp and British defense contractor BAE Systems added a further 4,200 to the number of workers who have been temporarily laid off due to the U.S. government shutdown.
  • Boeing Co. (BA) said it may furlough workers at its defense, space and security unit should the U.S. government’s partial shutdown continue. … He declined to say how many employees may be idled.
  • Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin said Monday that it would trim its planned furloughs to about 2,400 employees—most of whom are based in the D.C. area—in light of the Pentagon’s decision to recall most of its civilians workers.
  • 10/8/13: One industry group estimated that after another week of shutdown, up to 300,000 government contractors could be out of work.
  • Many state governments, including North Carolina, Rhode Island, Arkansas, are also furloughing employees whose pay depends on federal funding. Wyoming furloughed 231 state employees whose salaries are paid in full or in part by the federal government.
  • A recent study released by WalletHub claims that Idaho is one of the hardest-hit states in the union, when it comes to the shutdown. Idaho checks in at ninth, due to our high reliance on federal contracting work (much of which has been put on stand-by) and our high reliance on loans from the U.S. Small Business Association (which can’t be processed). Idaho will feel even more impact from the shutdown next week, when logging in national forests is halted.
  • The housing market is expected to slow down because lenders won’t be able to verify borrowers’ incomes with the IRS and Social Security Administration. Borrowers will also face delays getting mortgage insurance from the Federal Housing Authority, which guarantees about 15% of new loans.
  • Many small business employers rely on E-Verify (an online program of the Department of Naturalization and Immigration Services) to determine a potential employee’s eligibility. But that resource is currently unavailable. 
  • Furloughs for federal inspectors also kept the National Transportation Safety Board from dispatching a team to investigate a fatal explosion on a Washington Metro line over the weekend. // Deborah Hersman, chairman of the NTSB and a West Virginia native, said there have been 14 accidents since the shutdown began — including a school bus accident in Tennessee and a worker who died on the D.C. Metro subway system — that the agency has been unable to investigate because of the shutdown. “Safety delayed is safety denied,” Hersman said.
  • National weather and emergency preparedness resources are not available.
  • The government’s Small Business Administration, Federal Housing Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency are essentially out of reach for many people applying for funds…government funding for these agencies has essentially been halted
  • Agriculture producers cannot get market reports.
  • Government approvals for fishing and quotas are unavailable, a situation that is costing seafood companies tens of thousands of dollars. 
  • Illinois officials are scaling back on certain hospital and nursing home inspections because of the partial federal government shutdown. …a state agency gets about $1.3 million a month to pay for inspections of medical facilities. But the shutdown means the money isn’t heading to Illinois. So the Illinois Department of Public Health has put certain inspections on hiatus.
  • Head StartAfter reports during the first week of shutdown that some Head Start programs had been shuttered in Florida, Connecticut and a few other states, more programs will likely shut as local programs run out of money. [Some conservatives see the curtailing of a pre-school program for low income families not as a crisis, but as an opportunity.]
  • WIC [Women, Infants, and Children] If the federal government is still shut down at the end of October, 38,000 women and young children (in Washington state) will lose access to an important federal nutrition subsidy called WIC, and 82 King County staff will be laid off.
  • Meals on Wheelsthe shutdown comes on top of the this year’s sequester, which resulted in a roughly 8% overall cut in federal funding for Meals on Wheels, a percentage that might be higher or lower for individual programs. [How many veterans receive Meals on Wheels? It's too bad GOP politicians care more about photo-ops at national monuments than whether those elderly veterans in wheelchairs will receive something to eat in the weeks ahead.]
  • Salvation Army: The impacts of the government shut down can be seen on the shelves of the Salvation Army’s food pantry. “Usually shelves would be full like this,” explained Volpone. Since the shut down began, the Salvation Army says it is feeding 40 more mouths a day than normal.
  • Many exports and imports – including steel, lumber and computer equipment – cannot move over the border without specific permits from the federal government, permits that aren’t being given because of the shutdown.
  • Environmental Protection AgencyAll pesticide imports to the U.S. have been halted, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which must approve them but has had more than 90% of its staff furloughed.
  • U.S. Department of CommerceSome U.S. technology companies can’t fill overseas orders because they cannot obtain U.S. Department of Commerce authorization to export. Steel imports are stranded at customs-clearance warehouses awaiting paperwork.
  • MSHA [Mine Safety and Health Administration]: gave lay off notices to nearly 1,400 employees who enforce mine safety laws from West Virginia to Montana. Those cutbacks mean safety regulators can’t do routine inspections of those high-hazard workplaces. Since the shutdown began, three mine workers died in separate accidents that occurred over a three day span. However, there isn’t any indication that those deaths occurred because of fewer inspections… But its been enough to send a red flag to officials with the united mine workers of America, and local miners as they continue their work.
  • With ninety per cent of OSHA employees furloughed, workplace-safety inspections aren’t taking place.
  • Ninety per cent of EPA workers are also staying home, which means inspections of toxic-waste sites have stopped.
  • The CDC has stopped monitoring the spread of the flu.
  • As scientists had feared, today (Oct. 8) the National Science Foundation announced it was canceling the U.S. Antarctic research program for this year because of the ongoing government shutdown… The shutdown means the cancellation of millions of dollars of planned research. Graduate students may have to stay in school longer because they won’t get the data they need to complete their research. Contractors are losing their jobs. Other countries, including New Zealand, France and Italy, rely on the United States’ sea-ice runway at McMurdo Station and may not be able to conduct their own research after the pullout.
  • As a result of the federal government shutdown, many resources that researchers, academics, and library patrons depend on—like the Library of Congress (LC) archives—have been rendered unavailable in the last week. [From comments: A great deal of research is done at National Laboratories, such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, including library/digital library research, which are slated to shutdown at midnight 18th of October.]
  • Oct. 16: Federal courts could shut down. Administrators say the courts will stay open for roughly the first 10 business days of the shutdown, but they say they would have to reassess matters on Oct. 15.
  • After Oct. 17, the Treasury would have about $30 billion on hand, enough to cover only a few days. Predictions for the fallout in the financial markets are catastrophic.
  • Some economists have estimated that the shutdown costs the U.S. economy $300 million a day.
  • If the shutdown stretches through the end of October, experts at Moody’s Analytics predict a total economic impact of $50 billion.

LAST DAY to submit comments on USDA’s proposed rule: allow chicken slaughterhouses to self-inspect

CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT COMMENTS ON THIS PROPOSED RULE

More austerity / deregulation for the American people, endangering our food supply, health, the factory workers, the humane treatment of the animals, and federal jobs — all to allow the industry to maximize profits:

USDA to Let Industry Self-Inspect Chicken

The USDA hopes to save $85 million over three years by laying off 1,000 government inspectors and turning over their duties to company monitors who will staff the poultry processing lines in plants across the country.

The poultry companies expect to save more than $250 million a year because they, in turn will  be allowed to speed up the processing lines to a dizzying 175 birds per minute with one USDA inspector at the end of the line.  Currently, traditional poultry lines move at a maximum of 90 birds per minute, with up to three USDA inspectors on line.

Whistleblower inspectors opposed to the new USDA rule say the companies cannot be trusted to watch over themselves.  They contend that companies routinely pressure their employees not to stop the line or slow it down, making thorough inspection for contaminants, tumors and evidence of disease nearly impossible.  “At that speed, it’s all a blur,” one current inspector tells ABC News.

CLICK HERE TO READ PROPOSED RULE / SUBMIT COMMENTS

The problem for workers, advocates say, is that the presence of human inspectors serves as the primary governor of line speed in plants. With USDA inspectors out of the picture, the proposed rule would allow some plants to move from a maximum of 70 to 140 birds per minute to a maximum of 175, a potential boon to the efficiency-minded poultry industry. – USDA Poultry Plant Proposal Could Allow Plants To Speed Up Processing Lines, Stirring Concern For Workers

If you plan to continue eating chicken that’s inspected by the corporation turning a profit on how many carcasses it can push out the door in an hour, you might find this information from FSIS useful

According to OMB Watch, a government accountability newsletter, cutbacks at the USDA have coincided with a significant rise in salmonella outbreaks. The group says 2010 was a record year for salmonella infection and 2011 saw 103 poultry, egg and meat recalls because of disease-causing bacteria, the most in nearly 10 years. – Yahoo! News

In the period from March to August 2011, 90 percent of the defects found by the USDA inspectors involved “visible fecal contamination that was missed by company employees.” – Mother Jones

CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS 

I won’t be eating chicken: USDA to lay off hundreds of inspectors, let poultry slaughterhouses inspect themselves

What could go wrong? Here is one of those Republican austerity measures that all of us will need to accept so that millionaires won’t have to pay higher taxes:

READ PROPOSED RULE / SUBMIT COMMENTS BY APRIL 26, 2012

USDA to Let Industry Self-Inspect Chicken

As early as next week, the government will end debate on a cost-cutting, modernization proposal it hopes to fully implement by the end of the year. A plan that is setting off alarm bells among food science watchdogs because it turns over most of the chicken inspection duties to the companies that produce the birds for sale.

The USDA hopes to save $85 million over three years by laying off 1,000 government inspectors and turning over their duties to company monitors who will staff the poultry processing lines in plants across the country.

The poultry companies expect to save more than $250 million a year because they, in turn will  be allowed to speed up the processing lines to a dizzying 175 birds per minute with one USDA inspector at the end of the line.  Currently, traditional poultry lines move at a maximum of 90 birds per minute, with up to three USDA inspectors on line.

Whistleblower inspectors opposed to the new USDA rule say the companies cannot be trusted to watch over themselves.  They contend that companies routinely pressure their employees not to stop the line or slow it down, making thorough inspection for contaminants, tumors and evidence of disease nearly impossible.  “At that speed, it’s all a blur,” one current inspector tells ABC News.

And from Mother Jones:

But Food & Water Watch’s investigation of the USDA’s longtime pilot program to test the new procedures casts serious doubt on the food safety claim. Using the Freedom of Information Act, FWW obtained inspection documents from slaughterhouses in the pilot program for the first eight months of 2011. The reports relate to the 20 to 80 randomly selected birds the USDA inspectors looked at during each shift to check up on company-hired inspectors. The results, from FWW’s summary, make pink slime look downright appetizing (full report here):

Company employees miss many defects in poultry carcasses. The inspection category that had the highest error rate was ‘Other Consumer Protection 4′ for dressing defects such as feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass. The average error rate for this category in the chicken slaughter facilities was 64 percent and 87 percent in turkey slaughter facilities. In one turkey slaughter facility, nearly 100 percent of samples found this category of defect.

It gets worse. In the period from March to August 2011, 90 percent of the defects found by the USDA inspectors involved “visible fecal contamination that was missed by company employees.” One inspector’s report contained this unsettling anecdote:

I observed a section of intestine wrapped around the rotating paddles in the neck chiller. The intestine was approximately 1 1/2 feet in length, contained fecal material. Additionally, numerous other pieces [of] digestive tract materials, such as chicken crops and esophagus were also observed in the neck chiller…This regulatory noncompliance would potentially allow for the cross contamination of necks by digestive contents material such as ingesta and/or feces.

Ugh. FWW reports that the public has until April 26 to comment on the program, which could be rolled out as soon as October. Meanwhile, the USDA has made clear that it wants to institute the new rules.

It’s all about money. The GOP cares about the corporations, their CEOs, and their profits — not the employees, and definitely not the public health.  Oh, and it also looks good to their ignorant teaparty base to be able to say they had a hand in laying off hundreds of federal workers. That’s gotta be the icing on the cake. That these feds protect our food supply doesn’t matter a bit. It’s the U.S. of Corporatism: profit over people.

READ PROPOSED RULE / SUBMIT COMMENTS BY APRIL 26, 2012

Anyway, if you plan to continue eating chicken that’s inspected by the corporation turning a profit on how much it can push out the door in an hour, you might find this information from FSIS useful:

Salmonella Questions and Answers

Closing almost 260 USDA offices — what could go wrong?

AP News: Closing of 259 USDA offices raises safety concerns

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – The U.S. Agriculture Department announced Monday it will close nearly 260 offices nationwide, a move that won praise for cutting costs but raised concerns about the possible effect on food safety.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the goal was to save $150 million a year in the agency’s $145 billion budget. About $90 million had already been saved by reducing travel and supplies, and the closures were expected to save another $60 million, he said.

The plan calls for 259 offices, labs and other facilities to be closed, affecting the USDA headquarters in Washington and operations in 46 states. Seven foreign offices also will be shut.

Some of the closures had been previously announced. The USDA said last year it would shut down 10 agricultural research stations, including the only one in Alaska, where scientists were seeking ways to use the vast waste generated by the largest wild fishery in the nation to make everything from gel caps for pills to fish meal for livestock feed.

Other parts of the announcement were a surprise. Andrew Lorenz, deputy district manager for the Food Safety and Inspection Service in Minneapolis, learned his office would be closed, along with those in Madison, Wis., and Lawrence, Kan.

“They wiped out the entire Midwest,” said Lorenz, whose office handles all federal inspections of meat, poultry and egg products in Minnesota, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming.

Read more…

Essentially they’re saving $150 in a $145,000 budget — at the expense of the nation’s food safety.

  • Budget: $145,000,000,000
  • Savings: $150,000,000

The Teaparty / Libertarian dream: let the market regulate itself. What could go wrong? And some government workers will lose their jobs? That’s a bonus to the teaparty and just what the economy needs right now! Double-plus good.