WINCHESTER — Whether the region sees a significant economic hit from the partial shutdown of the federal government depends a lot on how long it lasts.
On Wednesday, the federal government entered its fifth day of a partial shutdown. About 25 percent of the federal government has been shut down, with approximately 800,000 federal workers nationwide expected to be affected during the holiday season, according to The Washington Post.
The White House has demanded that Congress approve $5 billion in funding for construction of a wall or fence along the U.S. and Mexico border. Democrats in Congress say this is not an effective or even realistic means of border security.
“Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump railed about his wall, and promised that Mexico would pay for it. Now he is poised to shut down the federal government over his demands that American taxpayers fork over $5 billion to pay for a wall which has always been more of a political stunt than an effective means of securing our border,” Jennifer Wexton, the newly elected Democrat who will represent the 10th District in the new year, said in a news release on Friday. “800,000 public servants — men and women who keep our country safe and our government running smoothly — will now spend this holiday season in financial distress.”
There are about 70,000 federal workers in the 10th congressional district of Virginia, which includes Winchester and Frederick County, according to the office of Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-10. It’s not clear exactly how many of these workers are affected by the shutdown.
At the Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District building in Frederick County all of the approximately 350 employees were at work on Wednesday. Deputy public affairs specialist Julie Shoemaker said that the facility, which supports contracting and construction projects overseas, is under the Department of Defense, which had already been funded. “The bottom line is, we are really not affected,” Shoemaker said.
According to the National Park Service website, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park in Middletown will remain open during the shutdown, but there will be no services and all public buildings will be closed since the staff has been sent home.
When the government shut down in 2013, about 38 percent of the 800-plus workers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster response facility in Frederick County were furloughed. No one from FEMA’s Mid-Atlantic headquarters in Philadelphia responded to calls Wednesday, but the recorded response on the media line stated that calls would not be returned until the shutdown ends because those employees have been furloughed.
Patrick Barker, executive director of the Frederick County Economic Development Authority, said on Wednesday that the area could take a hit in tourism and retail if the shutdown drags on. Places where people spend their discretionary income, such as restaurants and entertainment venues, would probably bear the brunt if workers started cutting back.
When the government shutdown for 16 days in 2013 approximately 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed and another 1.3 million were required to report to work not knowing if they would be paid. Congress later authorized back pay for those employees, although there is no guarantee that will happen when the government shuts down.