December 05, 2019
State Latest News | CMP | Bangor Metro | Blanca Millan | Today's Paper

Mainers feeling the crunch as government shutdown enters its 5th week

Courtesy of Grace Pond Farm via Maine Public
Courtesy of Grace Pond Farm via Maine Public
Rhiannon Hampson and her partner were in the process of selling their former farm when the shutdown hit in December. That put the sale to a halt, because their mortgage holder is a federal agency.

As the partial government shutdown stretches into its fifth week, some Mainers say what typically feels like distant Washington, D.C., politics is now affecting their daily lives.

From federal workers to farmers, the closure of some government agencies is having short-term effects on jobs and income, and will likely also have consequences for years to come.

This Friday is supposed to be payday for federal workers. But it won’t be for Kim’s husband, who still reports to his job as an essential employee with the Department of Homeland Security.

“We’re now onto the second paycheck where he just hasn’t received a paycheck,” said Kim, who asked that her last name not be used.

[A running list of the shutdown’s effects in Maine]

As a result, Kim said they’ve had to find money elsewhere to pay their bills. She said they resorted to using a loan that was supposed to cover operating costs for a new flower business she just opened in November.

“The timing of the shutdown couldn’t be any worse,” she said.

If it goes on much longer, Kim said that she’ll have to shutter her business for the duration of the shutdown and beyond until she can build up enough funds to reopen. She said she feels helpless.

“I feel like those that have the ability to resolve this don’t realize on a personal level, or just how many personal levels, their decisions and lack of conclusion have affected us,” Kim said.

The partial government shutdown also is feeling personal for Rhiannon Hampson, co-owner of Grace Pond Farm, an organic dairy and livestock farm.

“You know, it doesn’t take a lot to realize how intertwined our lives are with other people, other government workers,” Hampson said.

Hampson and her partner recently moved their farm from Monmouth to Thomaston. Their new property offers more grazing land and a chance to grow their business. They were in the process of selling their former farm when the government shutdown hit in December. That put the sale to a halt, because their mortgage holder is a federal agency — the Farm Service Agency.

[Eastern Maine businesses and nonprofits have free tickets, meals and more for furloughed workers]

“So we’re on the hook for two property taxes, two mortgages, two heating bills during subzero temperatures, two insurance payments, two … everything,” Hampson said.

What’s more, the Farm Service Agency was supposed to be the bridge lender to help Hampson secure a dairy loan to build infrastructure on their new farm. But in order to meet the deadline for the loan, she said she has to go with a different lender — and a 5 percent higher interest rate.

“This isn’t just going to end when the government reopens,” she said. “We’re going to be dealing with the effects of this for the next seven years because of that higher interest rate.”

Hampson isn’t the only one who will feel the effects of the partial government shutdown for years to come.

“It’s a slow motion train wreck. It’s a super slow motion train wreck,” said Dr. Aileen Yingst, a Brunswick-based scientist who works for the Planetary Science Institute.

Yingst is one of the scientists involved with the Mars Curiosity rover mission. Her work is funded through a NASA grant, so she’s not a federal employee, but many of her colleagues are.

“I can’t work with, I don’t know, one-third to one-half of my colleagues across the country because they are federal employees. They work at various NASA centers,” Yingst said.

Those colleagues are furloughed, Yingst said, and important work isn’t happening: grant writing to fund future scientific work, instrument development, calibrating hardware.

“There are even research papers that I don’t have access to because my portal is usually through the U.S. Geological Survey, and that’s closed down,” she said.

[Shutdown stifled end of record year for Maine home sales]

The longer the shutdown stretches, Yingst said, the more future missions are at risk because preparations will have to be rushed once the government reopens.

“Because launch dates are based on physics. They’re not based on politics or whether you’re red or blue or purple or whatever,” she said. “Planets align when they align, they don’t stop just because it’s inconvenient. So, certain things have to happen for launch dates to be met. Certain things have to happen to communicate to the Mars Curiosity rover, and tell it what to do.”

Yingst said she’s distressed for her colleagues. She’s also concerned that she may soon have to go without a paycheck because it’s unclear whether the grant funding for her work will be appropriated during the shutdown.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

 



Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like