Relief reverberates throughout Yakima Valley, Washington state as government shutdown ends

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YAKIMA HERALD – MAI HOANG – The partial federal government shutdown, the longest in history, had some 1,200 federal workers in Yakima County furloughed or working without pay.

Those workers lost more than $218,000 in weekly wages during the shutdown, according to the state Employment Security Department.

The shutdown also generated uncertainty among those receiving benefit checks from the federal government, including retired federal workers and those getting food stamps and cash assistance.

“I’m glad all sides have agreed to negotiations,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Sunnyside Republican, in an emailed statement. “Reopening the government to allow for hard-working federal employees to be paid while these negotiations happen is the right thing to do.”

State residents who have had to work without pay during the shutdown are eligible for unemployment benefits. They include the Transportation Security Administration agents, Coast Guard employees, food safety agents and FBI agents.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the shutdown should have never happened.

“Reopening the government temporarily is an important first step, but we cannot allow this to happen again in three weeks,” he said in a written statement. “Shutdowns are not a negotiating tactic — period. Federal workers and their families should never be held hostage to the president’s whims.“

About 24 percent of Yakima County households receive food stamp benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as of 2017, according to U.S. Census data. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, working with state agencies administering the SNAP program, managed to distribute benefits to recipients for both January and February.

Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, offices in Oregon and Washington remain open and funded through March. Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic encouraged families Friday to continue to make and keep their WIC appointments, and use their benefits as they normally would.

The 56,000 Washington state recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program have also continued to receive benefits.

The shutdown has also impacted state agencies, businesses and residents, according to a report from Inslee’s office. Those impacts include:

  • TSA agents were working at airports without pay for more than a month, which has created a strain on operations, including at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture shut down a pesticide data program that monitors pesticide residue on food. The state Department of Agriculture had planned on testing about 1,400 samples for more than 200 pesticides.
  • The state Department of Agriculture was unable to get technical assistance from the Food and Drug Administration, which has limited certain food safety activities, such as inspections.
  • Furloughs to the Bureau of Indian Affairs forestry office halted timber sales. That put employment for 270 people who work at Yakama Forest Products, a Yakama Nation-run business, at risk.
  • Furloughs to the Indian Health Service caused service disruptions.
  • Students who filed for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, after the shutdown started on Dec. 22, have been unable to get their application processed.

Posted by: Mai Hoang, Yakima Herald, January 26, 2019

Picture: TSA Worker AP Photo – Ted S. Warren