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Sen. Schatz: ‘People Are Suffering, We Must Reopen The Government’

January 24, 2019, 3:13 PM HST
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U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) went to the Senate floor to call for an end to the Trump shutdown on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. In his remarks, Schatz highlighted the negative impacts of the shutdown, including the harm to Hawai‘i’s federal workers, the economy and our national security.

“I’m grateful that, for every story I’ve heard of someone suffering, there’s also a story of people stepping up to help,” said Sen. Schatz. “In Hawai‘i, local utility companies and financial institutions have decided that they won’t penalize any federal worker hurt by the shutdown who misses a payment. I want to thank all of our local banks for allowing unpaid federal workers to make a late payment on their mortgages without a penalty. I want to thank our credit unions for extending very cheap credit. I want to thank the people are organizing in local communities—not just in Hawai‘i, but across the country—so that middle class families can make it through this.

“But federal workers want paychecks, not food banks,” Schatz continued. “They shouldn’t rely on pop-up kitchens, or online fundraising campaigns, or the kindness of family, friends and strangers – great as they are. They should simply be paid, and that starts by opening the government.”

The full text of Schatz’s remarks as prepared for delivery follows:

It has been 34 days since the president fulfilled his promise to shut down the government. And the American people are not happy about it. Poll after poll shows that people are not okay with the way the president is handling his job.

Because to any reasonable person, the shutdown has had unacceptable consequences.

There are already four failures brought by this shutdown that, in any other time in modern history, would bring a president to his senses and end the shutdown.

First, federal workers are in food lines. Hundreds of thousands of people who work for the government are either furloughed or working without pay. And tomorrow, these middle class Americans will miss their second paycheck, bringing the amount of money they are owed by the federal government to $4.7 billion. Nearly a third of these workers are veterans.

It may be hard for billionaires like Wilbur Ross to understand, but for people in the middle class, missing two paychecks in a row is at best stressful and at worse a stroke of calamity.

I’ve met people working in airport security who can’t concentrate. They can’t sleep. Because they can’t stop worrying about how to pay their bills. I’ve met government workers in the midst of applying for food stamps, and asking local charities for help. I met a single mom who has spent her career working hard to build a life for her family. She told me that, without these paychecks, it’s all going backwards.

As one Washington Post columnist put it, under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look like the failed Soviet system, with middle class workers literally waiting in bread lines.

I’m grateful that, for every story I’ve heard of someone suffering, there’s also a story of people stepping up to help. In Hawai‘i, local utility companies and financial institutions have decided that they won’t penalize any federal worker hurt by the shutdown who misses a payment.

I want to thank all of our local banks for allowing unpaid federal workers to make a late payment on their mortgages without a penalty. I want to thank our credit unions for extending very cheap credit. I want to thank the people are organizing in local communities—not just in Hawai‘i, but across the country—so that middle class families can make it through this. But federal workers want paychecks, not food banks. They shouldn’t rely on pop-up kitchens for furloughed workers, or online fundraising campaigns, or the kindness of family, friends and strangers – great as they are.

They should simply be paid, and that starts by opening the government.

The second failure of this shutdown is that economic growth is slowing.

This week, a White House advisor said that the nation’s economic growth could be zero if the shutdown goes on. Economists and business leaders were already worried about the potential for a recession – now this shutdown is only fanning the flames. Small business can’t get loans. Companies can’t go public.

This administration has stopped some of the core functions of our market and our economy – but the corruption of this administration goes on. If you have money, the president will take care of you. and if you don’t, he won’t. Federal workers have been called back to the office to take care of oil and gas leases, and help for financial institutions. They’re working unpaid so that special interests can still make money.

This is the third failure: while rich people are protected, this shutdown leaves the people who are most vulnerable to fend for themselves.

Food pantries and health clinics that rely on federal funds are out of supplies, which means that Americans are going hungry, and without medicine for everything from diabetes to addiction. Landlords who provide housing for four million people—that’s largely seniors, people with disabilities and children—they will soon stop getting rent payments. They’ll have to decide how long they can hold out before being forced to evict these people or lose the property themselves. Housing authorities are delaying the release of Section 8 vouchers.

Domestic violence shelters that rely on federal funds are furloughing their own workers and cutting back services that literally save lives. So men, women, and children who need to get out of a dangerous situation at home have fewer options to get to safety.

And that brings me to the fourth failure, which is that public safety is at grave risk.

Air traffic controllers and TSA workers are working without pay. They are stressed out. They are understaffed and under-supported. And they are sounding the alarm.
The National Air Traffic Control Association said yesterday: “We cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break. It is unprecedented.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is being forced to choose which crashes it will investigate and which it won’t, leaving us with unanswered questions and risking lives in the future. As of this week, the NTSB has been unable to investigate 87 crashes, including ones that ended people’s lives.

This is a pattern – of recklessly endangering the safety of Americans. We are just two months out from a wildfire that destroyed 18,000 homes and buildings and killed 86 people. And yet the shutdown has stopped fire fighter trainings. It’s cancelled controlled burns. It’s led to dead trees piling up in places we know pose risks. This is what happens when you shut down the government to try and get your way. You put communities at risk.

The safety of Americans abroad and at home is threatened by this shutdown.

The State Department had to cancel a border security summit—which is ironic. And because of the shutdown, our diplomats can’t do basic functions like update country-specific websites or Twitter accounts. When Indonesia was hit by a tsunami recently, the State Department told Americans in the region to follow U.S. Embassy Jakarta’s Twitter account for updates. But then the embassy’s Twitter account had to stop tweeting regularly because of the shutdown.

Meanwhile, FBI agents are working without pay, and field offices are operating in an environment of financial uncertainty. That means investigations into street gangs and drug dealers are on hold. Trainings on child abductions and counter-terrorism have been cancelled. Communications with sources about gangs like MS-13 have stopped. As one agent put it, “our enemies know they can run freely.”

So I would ask my colleagues: why are we putting our public safety at risk? Why can’t we re-open the government and then negotiate our differences? Because it only gets worse if this continues.

The next cascade is coming, if Republicans won’t join us in opening the government.

Federal courts will halt all major operations if the shutdown lasts until February. 525 affordable housing contracts will expire at the end of January, and 550 more will lapse in February. Cities and states will be forced to end their public transportation programs, because they’ve gone for so long without federal reimbursements. DC’s transit system is already losing nearly half a million dollars a day because of the shutdown.

That’s not sustainable. Tax season will be thrown into even deeper chaos, and in a year when the IRS is implementing new tax law.

We must reopen the government. The nation depends on it – our public safety and national security depend on it. The middle class, and the people who this Congress has committed to care for, depend on it. We can all agree that to fail in these duties is unacceptable. Let’s do the right thing, and re-open the government.

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