For Cities, Shutdown is About People, Not Politics

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On Thursday, January 3rd, the 116th session of Congress began. Although control of the U.S. House of Representatives changed hands from Republican majority to Democratic majority, there is little change among the individual leaders atop each party. On January 2nd, the same leadership that was unable to prevent the partial federal government shutdown last month, including President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, met face-to-face for the first time since the partial government shutdown began on December 21st.

NLC’s message to Washington, delivered by NLC President Karen Freeman-Wilson before the shutdown, hasn’t wavered: Cities, towns and villages expect our leaders in Washington to meet their most basic obligation and keep the federal government open.

“Enough is enough — it’s time for our federal partners to do their jobs and reopen the federal government,” said Freeman-Wilson in a statement on January 2nd. “Each day of a federal shutdown increases the pain felt in cities, as funding dries up for programs that help develop local economies and support our nation’s most vulnerable residents. Cities don’t have the luxury of waiting — we urge the federal government to act now and honor its responsibility to serve the American people.”

After the 116th Congress was gaveled into session, the new House leadership called a vote on two bills that would end the partial government shutdown. The first bill, H.J. Res. 1, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019, includes six of the seven remaining Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 spending bills and would fund the currently closed federal agencies except for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the rest of FY19. The second bill, H.R. 21, Making further continuing appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal year 2019, would provide short term funding for DHS at FY18 levels until February 8th.  By isolating the Homeland Security appropriations, the bills’ sponsors hope to disconnect the current debate over funding for a border wall from the broader partial government shutdown.

Funding for the agencies included in H.R. 21 — including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Commerce — are at the same levels that were already approved by the Senate during the 115th  Congress. Those funding bills passed with large bipartisan majorities, and NLC’s support, before the partial shutdown. You can see the proposed funding for specific city priorities in the “Senate” column of NLC’s Budget Tracker.

In the first votes of the new Congress, the House passed both bills to re-open the government through the rest of the fiscal year. H.R. 21 passed by a margin of 241-190, with seven Republicans joining their Democrat counterparts. However, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has stated that the Senate would not advance any bill without President Trump’s support, and the president has already indicated his opposition to the House bills. There have been growing calls from Congressional Republicans to resolve the on-going gridlock that has left over 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay. Some are predicting an extended partial shutdown.

For cities, towns and villages, there is certainty that the longer the partial federal government shutdown lasts, the larger the impact will be on local communities and their residents. Already, impacted agencies have run out of the contingency funds they relied on through the holidays. Among other things, USDA has shut down their ability to issue new loans for rural development and grants to small and rural communities for housing and community facilities. Other housing assistance, including HUD funding for public housing and project-based assistance, would likely be compromised by February unless something changes.

NLC is eager to hear from cities, towns and villages impacted by the shutdown, both directly and on social media. Please tweet your #shutdownstories, tagging @leagueofcities, to share how your community and residents are impacted by this prolonged appropriations fight.

About the Author: Michael-Wallace-small.jpgMichael Wallace is the Program Director for Community and Economic Development at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.