This is a guest post by Sean Polster, At-Large Councilmember from Warrenton, Virginia.
The longest Federal Government shutdown in history ended last week, but American residents are still on edge. A lot of the focus, and rightly so, was on the 800,000 government workers furloughed without pay, the federal workers ordered to work without pay and all of the contractors affected.
Now, the new focus is on February 15th and a potential second shutdown, if Washington does not pass its fiscal year 2019 appropriations on-time. Cities, towns and villages are still calculating the losses and effects of the first shutdown, and we cannot afford more gridlock and financial hardship so soon.
Our cities, towns and villages operated over the 35 days with the focus on doing what’s right for our residents and the community. The shutdown had a trickle-down effect on the local Virginia economy. In 2017, Virginia ranked third in the nation in the number of federal employees and their financial strain was felt by our local small businesses who have seen a marked decrease in their revenue.
Communities across the state worried about SNAP payments, HUD loans and a myriad of other federal programs that were at a standstill. Local economies and local governments urge strong caution to our federal leaders, as another shutdown would renew the strain on residents, businesses and crucial social programs such as these.
Each sector of our economy makes a critical contribution to our overall financial stability. When thousands of residents in the community go without pay for a month, they drastically alter their spending decisions. Restaurants saw a decrease in customers which means they had to tighten their belts to ride the storm. The Town of Warrenton, as with many localities across Virginia, utilizes a meals tax as our primary source of government income. Small retail businesses like clothing stores aren’t immune, nor are local barber shops.
The shutdown was hard on the employees that weren’t getting paid and Congress passed a bill to approve back pay, but what about all the residents that won’t see revenue or funds return? What happens to the single mother that owns her own store or the life-long Warrenton resident that styles hair for a living or the restaurant owner that gave free meals to furloughed workers? What about the local government officials that diligently and frugally approved an annual budget and are now faced with a financial shortfall due to the shutdown?
Thankfully, with every storm, there is a rainbow. Over the past several weeks cities, towns and villages across the commonwealth and this country have rallied behind our federal workers and contractors. Here in the Town of Warrenton, Great Harvest Bakery created a shelf of free baked goods and other local restaurants have offered significant discounts and provided free meals. Advanced Automotive hosted a Shutdown Saturday event with free oil changes and vehicle checks. The recently concluded shutdown brought communities like Warrenton together in times of need, a strong show of the character of our local communities.
In the end, I am reminded that local officials have interactions with their constituents every day. They are the parents of our kids’ friends. They are the customers of the businesses we own. They are our neighbors, our friends and their support and respect is the only currency we have to get things done. A shutdown is not for them. The federal government must come together for America’s residents and communities and move forward, instead of standing still.
About the Author: Sean Polster is currently serving in his second term on the Town Of Warrenton Council. He previously serves as the Chair if the National League of Cities Public Safety Crime Prevention Committee, and a member of the NLC Board of Directors. Additionally, he’s a the President of the Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials an NLC Constituency Group. Locally, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Municipal League and Chair of the Town Section, committee member of the Social Responsibility Committee for the PATH Foundation, and community activist organizations and volunteering at many community events. As a career fire and emergency services worker, Sean has always tried to implement and encourage programs that improved the quality of life for our residents while being fiscally responsible and building economic vitality.