Government shutdown affects Elm City

Larry Andrews, 61, sat at a picnic table on the New Haven Green Tuesday morning smoking a cigarette. He said he relies on Social Security disability, and he said he cannot help but see the Republicans as responsible for the shutdown.

“It’s pretty obvious what they’re trying to do,” he said. “All these resources that have been put in place for people that really need them — they want to take these resources away.”

After a prolonged standoff in Congress, the federal government shut down early Tuesday, leaving 9,000 employees in Conn. temporarily without work and threatening the livelihood of those who rely on government benefits.

The government shut down at midnight on Tuesday after Republicans in the House of Representatives repeatedly attached defunding of the Affordable Care Act to legislation that would keep the government running. The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, went into effect on Tuesday — exactly the outcome that Congressional Republicans were seeking to defer by threatening a shutdown for weeks. While essential services, such as law enforcement, post offices and military installations, will continue to function, most other federal functions came to a halt. In New Haven, a city heavily reliant on federal programs such as Social Security and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps), residents interviewed worried that the most devastating effects of the shutdown are yet to come.

Such social services will continue to be distributed for the time being, but the longer the shutdown continues, the more likely disruptions are to occur. Jerome Butler, Sr., a SNAP recipient who sells newspapers outside the Temple Street Dunkin’ Donuts said that after a few weeks of a shutdown people will become concerned that they will stop receiving essential services, like food stamps.

“People in my situation need a lot of state benefits,” he said. “Now what do these people do? They gotta feed their kids.”

Private nonprofits provide myriad services to the poor and homeless in cities like New Haven, and much of the funding for these agencies comes from the federal government. Liberty Community Services in New Haven works to connect homeless residents with affordable housing and other services. Executive Director John Bradley estimated that about 60 percent of the agency’s money comes from the federal government.

“Our hope is that this will be very short-lived,” he said of the shutdown.

The shutdown will also prevent small businesses from applying for federal loans and can delay grant payments to universities like Yale.

For the time being, courthouses will remain open, though the federal judiciary will be re-assessing the situation on Oct. 15, and courthouses could begin to close. The U.S. Postal Service, which is independently funded, will continue normal operation.

Across the country, every National Park is shuttered, the National Institutes of Health have stopped admitting new patients and 97 percent of the NASA workforce has been sent home. Nevertheless, Congress continues to collect pay during the shutdown.

President Obama expressed concerns Tuesday afternoon in forceful remarks from the White House Rose Garden. House Republicans, he said, “have shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.”

Republicans accused Democrats of bringing about the shutdown, saying that the President and Senate Democrats were unwilling to compromise by delaying, defunding or repealing the health care reform bill. The cross-party exchanges became increasingly vitriolic as the shutdown became imminent late Monday.

“Pres. Obama will negotiate with Iran but not Congress,” tweeted Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in reference to the President’s weekend phone call with the Iranian leader. Cruz spoke for over 21 hours on the Senate floor in an attempt to delay debate over a funding bill.

While the partisan wrangling continued throughout Tuesday on Capitol Hill, citizens like Andrews and Butler watched with a weary eye and continued about their normal business — for now at least.

“Today,” Butler said of his newspaper sales, “is going to be a two dollar day.”

Butler is among 36,210 SNAP recipients in New Haven.

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